Shae O'Brien is an English teacher, writer, wife, and mother to three beautiful girls. She takes life with a grain of salt and two spoonfuls of sugar! Please be sure to follow her on www.facebook.com/catholicmamablog.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Friendly Fire: When NFP is Questioned Within the Church

On my first post in celebration of National Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week (Why We Use NFP) I received a comment from a fellow Catholic woman stating that the Church is actually against the use of NFP (except in very rare circumstances). My heart dropped as I read the words and judgment (not without good intentions, mind you) of a fellow sister in my own faith. Yet it reminded me of the irony that tends to come with NFP--most often the opposition comes from within.

While most of America is boasting of the "war against women" being the Catholic Church vs. Contraception, there is an inner battle that is still being fought among the members of the Church itself. Natural Family Planning is the only form of "family planning" or "child spacing" allowed by the Catholic Church. That being said, there are many who believe it should not be used at all, unless in a rare circumstance of life or death. Much of this comes from a translation of an encyclical letter written by Pope Paul VII called Humanae Vitae, which discusses human life as it relates to married life and the conjugal act (sex).

The Mistranslation of Humanae Vitae

If you haven't read the entirety of Humanae Vitae yet, I highly suggest you do. It takes time and focus, but it is beautifully written and reflects the love and beauty of God, the Church, and marriage. It also serves as the main reference point for Catholics seeking an understanding of the Church's stance on intimacy and procreation in the eyes of God. Because of this, it is very important that we understand something that often goes unnoticed: there are two different translations of Humanae Vitae in use by the Church in America. One translations comes from Pauline Books and Media and the other comes from the Vatican itself. As an English teacher, I find it integral to recognize what the differences are in this text and how it affects the various attitudes of the body of our Church.

"Grave Motives" vs. "Serious Reasons"

The argument over whether or not Catholics should practice NFP is due to two very different understandings of Humanae Vitae. There is a catch phrase within Humanae Vitae that has promoted a large amount of judgment within the Catholic Church regarding NFP: "grave motives". It suggests that couples may only practice NFP when they have "grave motives" to do so. Except when I tried to find this phrase in the English translation of Humanae Vitae on the official Vatican website, it was not there. As it turns out, this is because the phrase comes from the translation of Humanae Vitae by Pauline Books and Media. In the official Vatican translation, the term used instead is "serious reasons". Is this really that big of a deal?

Well, let's take a look at some definitions.

adjective: grave; comparative adjective: graver; superlative adjective: gravest
  1. 1.
    giving cause for alarm; serious.
    "a matter of grave concern"

adjective: serious
  1. 1.
    (of a person) solemn or thoughtful in character or manner.
    "her face grew serious"
    • (of thought or discussion) careful or profound.
      "we give serious consideration to safety recommendations"

As you can see from these two definitions, we get two completely different feelings and understandings. With "grave", it offers an understanding of only being able to practice NFP if something is wrong or "gives cause for alarm". With "serious", we get a very different feeling of being able to practice NFP if we do so with "solemn", "thoughtful", or "careful" consideration as to our reasons. The main difference here is that the first word speaks to the reason itself while the second word speaks to the attitude of the couple considering practicing NFP.

Large Families vs. and Small Families

A difference in translations also lends to a difference in belief over what family size the Church promotes and supports. As many Catholics can attest, we are often expected by other Catholics and non-Catholics alike to have a large family. This can sadly become a bar to which any Catholic couple who is struggling to conceive may feel inadequate in their faith for not being able to reach. Let us go back to our two translations to see where the confusion sets in...

In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised, either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision, made for grave motives and with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth. 

This translation by Pauline Books and Media suggests that if a couple doesn't have a "grave motive" to avoid more children, then their other option is the "deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family". This particular translation makes me cringe when I think of the guilt and stress a Catholic couple may feel, whether constantly second guessing if their motives are grave enough or not using NFP out of fear of committing sin when they may actually need it.

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time. 

In the Vatican's translation, suddenly this is changed from an "either/or" choice, to one of constant and careful thought throughout a marriage, which may transition from being ready to have more children to feeling the need to consider avoiding more children and back, as circumstances change and develop. Most important to point out is that in this translation, "prudently" replaces "deliberately" as to the manner in which a couple should move forward in the growth of their family, meaning that it shouldn't be assumed that one must purposefully have a large family but instead consider a large family by "showing care and thought for the future" in their discernment.

"Responsible Parenting"

The beautiful focus, regardless of translation, is the idea of "responsible parenting". This phrase demands of all of us, whether trying to conceive or avoid, to do so with serious consideration, prayer, and communication with one's spouse. It demands that we make the choice of procreation "with regard to physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions". It reminds us that marriage isn't meant to be careless or thoughtless, but instead a woven tapestry of reflection, prayer, discussion, and intimacy between two spouses to become one again and again. Finally, it also places consideration on the most important people in this equation, not ourselves but the children God has waiting for us.

How to use NFP in accordance with God's will

What does this mean for NFP, and for those who feel strongly about their translation or interpretation of Humanae Vitae? It means that we all have a duty to prudently and generously consider where God is leading us in our marriages. It means that some of us may determine that our family is meant to be small and others that ours are meant to continue to grow. It also means that some of us will avoid for a time, or indefinitely, with serious reason even though we may long for more children desperately, while others will intentionally try to conceive cycle after cycle to no avail. It means that because it takes work and communication and reflection of our moral precepts, we will need each other to remind us of the purpose, beauty, and calling of NFP and how we should regard it with respect to God's will in our lives.

Natural Family Planning is about the prudence and generosity of a married couple, and requires constant reflection on the focus and reasoning for that focus toward the future of their family. If you feel that now may be a good time to reflect on your own use of NFP, here are some questions that can assist you and your spouse in beginning that integral communication and prayer (and you are also welcome to check out My TTA Prayer of Discernment), so you may discern what God is calling you to do:

  • Have we adequately prepared our marriage and our circumstances to be able to care for any future children God may see fit to give us? 
  • How is our communication as a couple, in regards to our needs and desires, concerns and questions? Are we able to listen for understanding and support each other by finding answers together in accordance with God's will for our lives?
  • What health issues or concerns (physical or mental) do we have and would they best be addressed before considering another pregnancy?
  • Do either of us have a "serious reason", "grave motive", or "just cause" that we feel merits avoiding pregnancy at this time or indefinitely? What would need to change in this circumstance to allow for our family to grow again, if ever?
  • Is there a possible reason or motive that we are unsure merits avoiding pregnancy that would be better discerned by talking with our priest?
  • Is there a "serious reason" or "grave motive" that we feel may require us to avoid pregnancy, but we feel the desire to pursue pregnancy anyway? Would it help to clarify or discern further course of action by discussing this reason with our priest?

In regards to how we view, judge, or confront other Catholics' choice to use NFP, I hope we can focus our thoughts and contemplation on our own morals and actions instead. As I like to think of it, The point is, it is not our job to create bars where the Church has offered curves, to place judgment where the Church has offered allowance. That in no way serves God, the Church, each other, or ourselves. 

It reminds me of something teachers say often: "I am looking for your best, and your grade will reflect anything less than your best." In all reality, it is a way to promote purposeful reflection and effort from the student, but is not meant for students to start judging each other's work against their own idea of "best". Only the Teacher can, and should, determine that. The rest of us should be focused on helping our peers turn out the best work they can, which requires a spirit of love, acceptance, and understanding. NFP can only work properly if we do it with a heart of service...to God, our spouses, our family, and each other. 

May God truly bless you all in this holy endeavor.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My TTA Prayer of Discernment

Today, as my charting suggested, I started my period. Each time this happens, I find myself in awe of the way God designed the female body, with a pattern, a cycle of life that I can learn and decipher. I have such an appreciation and respect for my body through all of my knowledge and practice of Natural Family Planning. It really is an incredible and miraculous experience. 

To some people, a period is a burden. It's gross. It's annoying. Birth control is an easy way to get rid of it. (All of these things are true.) But I am grateful for it. I am grateful that it shows me my body is working correctly. I am grateful that it reminds me of the power of my body as a woman. And right now, I am grateful that it shows me that I am not pregnant. 

Yes, I am one of those women currently using NFP to TTA (try to avoid) pregnancy. And this is another thing I love about NFP. Each month I have the opportunity to talk to my husband, pray with him, and discern if we want to continue to avoid pregnancy or if we feel we are ready to open our lives to another child. 

This morning, when I realized my new cycle had begun, I said a prayer in my heart to God:

Holy Father,

It is with gratitude that I accept the beginning of a new cycle. Thank You for Your continued guidance for our family. I pray that You keep my heart and mind open to life, that You keep my focus on Your plan for our family, and that You continue to bless us though we are unworthy. May I always remember to begin each cycle in contemplation and discernment of Your will and continue to recognize the beauty and wonder in the body you have created for me. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Do you have your own way of seeking God out and discerning your family's needs each cycle? If so, I'd love to hear about it below! If not, you are more than welcome to use my prayer. God bless. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Top Myths About NFP

So, you're curious about Natural Family Planning but don't know where to start. I understand the feeling. When I decided to finally dive in to the world of NFP, I was overwhelmed with information, assumptions, misunderstandings, and straight up lies. It took a lot of research on my part to determine what I needed to know and what I needed to know was incorrect. But should you have to deal with the same confusion I suffered through? Nah! To help you out, I've listed the top NFP myths below, and what you need to know...

1) Natural Family Planning is for Catholics.

If you've read the news lately (or even glanced at social media) then you've read about the debate between women's rights and religious liberty. Many Catholic Bishops have been speaking out about how we should be free NOT to pay for other people's contraception since it goes against Catholic beliefs. (If you want to take a gander at my views on this topic, you're welcome to read Birth Control, Hobby Lobby, and this Catholic Mama.) 

However, religious beliefs aren't the only reason people are choosing to use NFP. There are other factors enticing people to take the plunge these days, and most of it has nothing to do with your feelings on the Pope. Learning about our bodies and choosing a healthier form of pregnancy prevention is for EVERYONE. 

(Feel free to read Why We Use Natural Family Planning to read more.)

2) NFP is just leaving it up to God.

From personal experience, I can definitely say that if practicing NFP was just "leaving it up to God" then I would be perpetually pregnant FOREVER! I am like the poster child of Fertility. So, we practice NFP because we want to be responsible, financially stable parents to our children, and that means we simply can't be the baby making factory of Texas right now. 

The truth is, some people believe God made our bodies, and some people believe that God doesn't exist. This post is in no way meant to be a debate about that. But my point is, regardless of your religious beliefs, we can all recognize that science can explain our cycles, our fertility, and the process of making a baby. So why not use that knowledge to our advantage? NFP isn't about throwing up your hands to a higher power. It is about using our knowledge of how our bodies work to achieve or prevent pregnancy month to month as we see fit.

3) NFP = the Rhythm Method

So, you've heard of the rhythm method, eh? Then you know a tinsy bit about the history of NFP. HOWEVER, Natural Family Planning is NOT the Rhythm Method. The Rhythm Method was created in the early 1900's and is based on the idea that ovulation must happen the same day every cycle. So, simply calculate how long your cycle is to estimate when ovulation occurred. The problem with that concept is that women's cycles are rarely that predictable, as a variety of health and stress factors can fluctuate one's cycle from month to month. 

Natural Family Planning takes a scientific approach of recognizing biological signs that one is either fertile or infertile throughout the month. NFP has even gotten so advanced that some methods use fertility monitors that can predict fertility using saliva, cervical mucus, or urine! It's actually pretty awesome.

4) NFP is basically abstinence!

Let me tell you right now, if NFP was abstinence, I'm not sure I could be on board with that! After all, I chose marriage over the convent for a reason. 

I will be honest and say that it takes time to learn your body, and during that learning time you will probably want to be more conservative with your times of intimacy. However, ask any couple practicing NFP and they will let you know that they didn't have to give up their sex lives to do it.

5) NFP doesn't actually work

This one is rather disheartening. When practiced correctly, NFP methods are between 94-99% effective. Those numbers are right on course with any artificial birth control. So why do people keep spreading rumors that NFP doesn't work?

This rumor most often seems based on the lack of belief in one's ability to practice self-control. Natural Family Planning does not offer the convenience of having sex whenever, and for that reason some people scoff at the idea of it actually working. However, it is effective in pregnancy prevention, and it has the added awesomeness of making us more knowledgeable in the how's and why's of our workings of our bodies. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Why We Use Natural Family Planning: Women Speak Up About an Alternativeto Birth Control

     If you have spent anytime on the internet in the last month, then the words BIRTH CONTROL have come across your screen at least a dozen times. On a list of hot topics, women's rights are definitely skyrocketing to the top of the list! As a woman, I am proud and excited to be a part of a generation that is speaking up about equality and rights in a society where we have struggled to be seen as equals for centuries. That being said, there is a large group of women that practices an alternative form of birth control that is rarely mentioned in these discussions. (In the U.S., this pregnancy prevention method is often NOT covered by insurance and is not advocated for under the new Contraception Mandate.)

     This week, July 20th-26th, is National Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week. This alternative, completely natural form of birth control is used by women of all faiths, races, health struggles, and relationship statuses. However, it is still mentioned at a whisper in the world of contraceptive rights. So, I asked women across the world to take a picture of themselves giving their reasons for using NFP. Here are some of the responses I received...

1) Because it is all natural!

2) Because femininity is not a condition to be treated.

3) Because it helps women understand their bodies and how they can work to prevent or achieve pregnancy as their needs and desires change.

4) Because it can help women and their doctors determine medical issues and work to solve them.

5) Because birth control didn't work for them.

6) Because it is one of the only forms of birth control that is considered the man's responsibility too. (Safe sex is not just a woman's responsibility!)

7) Because it aligns with their morals or religious beliefs.

8) Because it allows couples to plan for the family they want, whether big or small.

9) Because it is inexpensive and user friendly.

Wanna know more about NFP? Comment below with any questions and I will try to answer them as a part of National NFP Awareness Week. Thank you to all the incredible women (and men) who participated in this post! God bless you.

Friday, July 11, 2014

5 Things Toddlers do that Lead to a Better Life

As a mother of three, I have experienced a lot of those unbelievably funny, gross, frustrating and overwhelming moments in life. I've had those days when I wonder what I was thinking. But I have begun to realize that my children have a LOT to teach me. The thing is, since having children my life has been filled with more joy, laughter, and love than ever before. (Don't worry, this is NOT a post about how people with kids have fuller lives than those who don't.) It just got me thinking, how has acting more like my children changed my life for the better? Well, here are five of the things that have changed my life--and maybe they could do the same for you!

1) Laugh when they fall down. This is one of my daughters' favorite games. Yes, I said game. They fall down, laugh hysterically, and get back up again--only to fall down in laughter! This is the complete opposite of an adult's normal reaction to a fall. We adults tend to react to our trips and stumbles with tears and self-loathing and maybe even a ton of binging on wine and chocolate (not that I would know anything about it).  Yet as a parent, I have found that the bigger of a deal I make a fall, the harder my daughters will take it. If I laugh it off, so do they! And you know what? Most falls in life really aren't as bad as we adults make them out to be. Laughing more and self-loathing less....the affect is instant and priceless!

2)  Announce when they poop. Oh, I don't mean calmly  and privately letting me know so I can assist them with wiping. I mean running into the living room, undies in hands, and screaming with pride, "I made a big poopy!" Oh yes. This happens. And why not? We all poop. And to be honest, I can't tell you the number of times I've had a particularly wonderful #2 experience and felt weird wishing I had someone to tell. The truth is, we have been taught to feel shame for a bodily function we ALL experience. By letting go of shame over a ridiculously normal act, we can learn to let go of shame for other things too...think periods, farts, snorting laughs, love of Lady Gaga--whatever happens to be on your blushing list.

3) Applaud everything! And I do mean everything. Every song, every twirl, every pouring of a cup of tea or pretending to be a horse. They applaud themselves. They applaud me. It may be something I have done a million times, but to them it is a task I should be proud of--even if it is loading the dishwasher or mooing like a cow. So why don't we adults applaud ourselves--and each other--more? Could you imagine the change in your attitude if you received cheers every time you turned in a report or folded a load of laundry? What if we said a (sincere, excited, high energy) thank you and congratulations every time someone we love did something positive?  How quickly would we change the course of our lives, and the lives of those around us?

4) Cheer and give hugs every time they see me. This is may favorite part of every day. I open the front door, peek around the corner, and witness the pure joy of my daughters running to greet me, screaming "Mama!" with arms wide open.  I know there will come a day when this does not happen. Every time it does, I hug them tightly and promise God not to forget this feeling ever. Yet, when we see those we love, we often take for granted their presence. We may see them everyday. We may have known they were on their way. Yet, I have known far too many people who had plans to see someone...that never arrived. Let's not take our loved ones for granted. Let's exclaim how much we missed them, how incredible they are, how much they mean to us. Don't leave any words unspoken or hugs left in empty arms.

5)  Say no. Ok, so I admit that this one is not often something I enjoy my daughters doing. When they don't want to, when they don't like it, when they think it's not fair or ok, the no's start coming out loud and clear! And while this isn't always the best thing for me (believe me, nap time was a struggle today), I have learned how easy--and important--it is to say no. How often do you say no to something you don't want to do? How often do you say no to something that feels wrong or not for you? Society teaches us to be agreeable, pleasing to others, appropriate in situations. Does that mean we should disregard our own feelings for everyone else's? Maybe it's time for us to admit when we need to say no, and stand up for our needs by stepping away when we need to.

There you go! Just five things my daughters have taught me to make my life a better one. I hope my sharing their little toddler wisdom can help you make your life a little better also. After all, who has time to live a life that doesn't make them happy? God bless.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Birth control, Hobby Lobby, and this Catholic mama

Some days I feel conflicted within myself. As though, my faith and my gender are in constant battle. Last week, after the decision regarding Hobby Lobby's birth control exemption, I had a hard time trying to decide which part of me I should be fighting for, and which side I seemed (by default) to be fighting against. 

The truth is that if you ask most Carholic women if they see a problem following their faith as a female, they would undoubtedly say no. Most of us do not feel oppressed by our Church. We do not see the beliefs of our religion as a design to keep ladies in the kitchen. We do not live life with an attitude of being less than men. 

On the contrary, you will not find another sect of Christianity that honors women more. We have full prayers and practices devoted not to Jesus, but to his mother. We recognize that the first truly spotless soul was Mary's. We hold her in the highest regard, while most denominations may go weeks or months (maybe years?) without mentioning her name. 

Oh, but that is just one woman...what about every woman? What about our rights? The truth is, we fully believe in a woman's right to plan out her family. We encourage women to be educated and in control of themselves and their fertility. We simply don't believe that requires any kind of pharmaceutical assistance. We believe that just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be done. 

So, where does that leave me, in this post? While I hold true to my faith and stand strong in my beliefs, I still felt torn by the Hobby Lobby case. I understood why they would be against emergency contraception (a huge myth is that they were against all birth control, though that is not the case). Yet, I struggled with the idea of a government that allowed one person's religious beliefs (even beliefs I may agree with) to make decisions for someone else's life. 

When I find myself in battles of conscious, I often end up on Facebook. That statement may make you laugh, but I can honestly say that I have been informed, enlightened, and convicted almost every day on social media. (If you don't feel the same, then maybe you aren't following the right people). As it turns out, this week was no exception. I read posts from Catholics, Protestants, Atheists, Buddhists, and many whose faith may not be defined by one simple title. I read comments and memes and jokes and prayers. Some caused me to laugh, some caused me to cry, many caused me to think...and finally now, they have helped me to write this post. I wanted to share a few with you, so you could see some of what I encountered. 

This meme was posted on a Catholic group for mothers. It immediately struck me as offensive, even as a woman who does not use artificial birth control. Is it fair to assume that a woman who uses birth control is using it solely (if at all) to prevent pregnancy? Is it fair to assume that a woman who uses birth control is so premiscuous she cannot keep her clothes on? Is it fair to assume that a woman who uses birth control has less morals or dresses in an immodest manner? 

When I tried to suggest that this meme was unfair and offensive, my comment was met with responses that it was just a joke and a way for "like-minded" people to have a laugh during a trying situation. I was appalled that members of my faith found such a crud joke to be humorous and worth sharing. 

But it got me thinking: Whose job should it be to judge whether or not someone needs birth control? By giving employers a say in what people (not just women, but obviously women in this case) need or don't need in their insurance plan, doesn't it give license for anyone to judge --regardless of their background, education, or profession? Why are we allowing anyone other than doctors to make these judgment calls, and what kind of people are we becoming because we feel entitled to a say in a stranger's medical wants or needs?

This meme was also found on a Catholic Facebook group. I immediately agreed with its message. Yes! Pay for it yourself! Your choice to use it. Your money to buy it. I can then wash my hands of you like Pilot. Sounds fair, right?

But then I read this post, from a friend who stated he would be unfriending anyone who supported Hobby Lobby. I hadn't expected to be his friend at the end of the day. However, he continued to try to express the reasoning behind his anger, and I am grateful he did...

Your choice to use it. Your money to buy it...that is what I'd said, right? I felt like a light bulb had clicked on in my conscience! THIS is why I felt conflicted! Not because I didn't agree with Hobby Lobby's belief. Because they were telling their employees how to spend the money THEY had earned. They earn their insurance. It isn't a gift from their employer, it's a part of their wages. If they didn't work the right number of hours, they wouldn't get it--because they earn this part of their compensation by working for it! 

Somehow this series of posts led me to the conclusion that the Supreme Court made the wrong decision. Hobby Lobby doesn't have the right to dictate to its employees that they cannot eat McDonalds for dinner because the company believes they should eat better.  Hobby Lobby can't tell its employees to cancel cable and buy more novels because the company believes they should read more. Hobby Lobby will never set aside 10% of its employees' paychecks to give to the starving children you see on tv because the company believes we should do more for third world countries. Why not? It's not the company's money--it's the employee's!

So, through all of this, I've come to the following conclusions:

1) It is time for religious people to stop speaking up about their faith only when it is a political hot topic. If you are speaking up to evangelize for your faith, you're not going to gain fans by suggesting your poor multimillion dollar religious organization is being bullied by a government that was founded on freedom to choose one's religion. If you are speaking up to defend your beliefs, consider whether or not you are doing so in a way that is reflective of your faith and your God's attitude toward His children. 

2) If the government wants to avoid the "slippery slope" of business and religion, perhaps it is time to take health insurance out of employers' hands all together and offer a truly universal healthcare system. OR Perhaps it would also work to let employers choose whatever insurance plan they like, but an employee should have the right to opt out if there is a government plan they would prefer to better suit their wants or needs. 

3) It is integral for me, as a Catholic, not to mistake my right to believe and practice my faith for the right to use my faith in an oppressive manner over those who disagree with me. Whether this be in my role as a teacher, my voting in our government, or my words and actions in everyday life. My faith is something I should want to offer others as a gift, not use to abuse or demean them as a weapon of hate. This week opened my eyes wide to the slippery slope of our religious beliefs, and how they easily slide us into roles that serve the one we weekly pray for protection against. Let us be an instrument of peace, a vessel of love, and a defender of freedom to choose...and may we pray that our actions and words influence choices of love, as we would want others to do for us. 

ETA: Third paragraph under 1st meme.