Fear and Natural Family Planning


nfp chartAs far back as I can remember, heights have posed an unwelcomed challenge. I was the kid who scaled the jungle-gym only to become paralyzed at the summit and tearfully beg for rescue. Ferris wheels are totally off-limits and even today escalators require a mental strategy. I never dreamed of spending my days balancing atop an extension ladder, but the chipped and peeling exterior of our house begged for my attention.

After repainting the easy-to-reach portions, my three-step ladder quickly became insufficient. Lacking the superhero trait of Mr. Fantastic, I had to engage some problem solving skills and a ladder seemed my next best option. It took a little self-hypnosis of sorts to talk myself up that first ladder, but work awaited and time was fleeting. I let go a little and convinced myself that a fall from a standard ladder couldn’t inflict too much damage.

Now our lovely home was built on a downgrade, so while the front door was a mere three steps from the solid ground, the rear was two-stories above stable earth. That standard ladder only raised my stature to the lower heights of the our home’s backside and painting only half of the house didn’t appear sensible. An extension ladder became unavoidable.

Step by step, paint supplies balanced in my right hand as my left hand secured its death grip on the metal side rail, I inched ever higher toward the firmament. Positioned at the ladder’s apex, I briefly dared to look down, a long, long way down. My previous risk estimations made from atop the standard ladder somehow didn’t ease my mind because from this height surely parts could break that might not be easily fixed.

Surrender and prayer were my last and best resorts. “Let go,” I persuaded, “let go of the fear.” Fear constrained me to the ground, but surrender could loose its hold. Reciting a prayer, I offered up my terror and released myself to the care and keeping of my guardian angel.

It’s amazing how fear has the potential to overpower in some cases or to protect in others. Years ago I read a book by Gavin DeBecker called The Gift of Fear. In it Mr. DeBecker gave real life examples of how people’s natural-born fear mechanism or intuition set off red flags and sirens in the presence of serious dangers. Those who listened typically avoided entering the danger zone or quickly fled before a perpetrator could inflict harm. Those who over-rationalized away their instinct generally paid a painful price. In those cases, fear was a gift bestowed on the individual, a signal by which they could gauge a circumstance or assess a stranger’s unspoken intent.

While teaching Natural Family Planning (NFP), I realized that fear really needs to be addressed. Often we have lovely, young couples register for our course to fulfill a marriage preparation requirement. Or sometimes they’ve attempted to self-study and feel the need for more instruction. Patiently they sit through our witness talk and intently they follow along with the training, but sometimes I can detect it in their hesitations and read it in their body language. Some fear that they are not smart enough or vigilant enough to learn and apply the method so as to postpone a pregnancy if circumstances warrant it. Beneath that is the deeper fear of their procreative powers.

Quite often the women have been controlling their cycles with hormonal birth control or contraceptive devices. These “outside forces” have led to the perception that fertility, or at least its suppression, is the responsibility of some “thing” not the individual woman. She may feel relinquished of her role in family planning beyond the routine exam and prescription refill. If an unexpected blessing comes along, she can “blame” the little one on a contraceptive failure.

Our modern culture has duped couples into believing that sex has only one purpose when in truth it is meant to be both unitive and procreative. Sometimes people question why birth control is unethical if naturally spacing children is not. Rightly, couples can deem themselves not in a position to welcome a child at a given time, but their plan to avoid the fertile time doesn’t directly frustrate that procreative end. God designed woman with fertile and infertile phases in her cycles and so in choosing to abstain during the fertile time, the couple is simply working within the system God designed.

A well used analogy goes like this: Two men have families to support. One man gets a legitimate job, works hard and provides his family’s needs. The other man sells illegal drugs, makes fast cash and pays his bills. Both men have fulfilled their role as provider, but clearly their methods are not equal. The ends don’t make the means ethical.

The culture also pushes the notion that children are a burden to the marriage/family, so fear stems from that thinking. We’re suppose to worry about college tuition, braces and trips to Disney World even before the baby is born. It’s no wonder newlyweds are frightened at the prospect of enlarging their family circle. Far from true, children bring countless gifts to a family. They create an environment that invites their parents to move beyond their small, self-serving circle. Additionally, when marital trials come (as they always do) parents have a vested interest in working out their differences in order to preserve stability for their children.

Let’s think about the term unexpected pregnancy. If a couple is engaging in the sexual embrace, they risk a pregnancy. It doesn’t matter if they are using contraception or not, sex between a fertile man and a fertile woman (during the fertile time) can result in a child (that’s why the only 100% effective means of avoiding pregnancy is 100% abstinence). So the term is illogical. Sex produces babies at least some of the time. Couples who practice NFP understand that and take responsibility for it.

Fear, in the case of our students, isn’t a helpful natural instinct, but an emotion fueled by man-made distortions. Couples need to identify their fear, face its source and than work together to overcome that which is erroneous or misplaced. Once they manage that task, they are better prepared to ascend the ladder of faith together. In time, some will even learn to surrender their man-made plans, allowing God to expand their limited view of happiness.

[editor’s note: this article is part of a series on birth control. Read the entire series here.]


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  • Marianne Fuerst

    Thank you for this. Another phenomenon that I’ve seen is a reluctance to admit that one would like to have a baby, unless a couple has been married for the proper window of time (1-3 years). It is much cooler and socially acceptable to resist babies, or at least PRETEND that you are avoiding, or have become “accidentally” pregnant. I think this is related to the fact that women these days are encouraged and praised in their careers and social lifestyle (traveling, partying, cultural endeavours) and it just isn’t the cool thing to want to give that up for such an old fashioned and simplistic concept as a family. Even when their instincts are crying out to get pregnant and have a first, second or third baby, the women I’m around feel compelled to take on an air of horror, fear, reluctance, or begrudging acceptance in order to maintain their dignity in this secular environment.

    I am 42 with 8 kids, and throughout my married life I’ve been around lots of married women in various stages of their marriages and child bearing years. Even with employed husbands and all the niceties of life provided for them, most women would never admit to wanting a pregnancy or another baby. Their husbands are usually resisting even more than the women, so even within their own marriages, the urge to procreate is forced into repression. I struggled with this myself, at first because of my career that I was in the process of developing and really loved when my first and second came along; and then, later, because of our already uncool, large family being expanded in my “old age”. It takes so much courage to be counter-cultural in the face of secularism.

    For those of us that take leap after leap of faith in God (being open to life is a definitely leap of faith), it is socially unacceptable in many circles to admit that we are ecstatic to cooperate with God. I have been guilty of downplaying my excitement and joy, and expressing a lukewarm, sheepish acceptance of my fate. People are more likely to say something encouraging if you appear to need a little encouragement. If you appear too happy about anything after the 2nd baby, people look at you like a freak and you have to start making excuses for yourself. This is just my speculation about why some women who obviously are desperate for a baby or another baby, seem to fake a reluctant attitude, based on my own experience and feelings in the same situation. It is sad. Even though the desire for motherhood is placed in us by a loving God, wanting to be a mother is simply not cool enough in today’s society.

    • Tara Anzardo Brelinsky

      Thank you for sharing that and I agree that some do pretend to not want a baby to satisfy others. Thank you for your courageous openness to life according to God’s plan.

  • niknac

    Akk I got out of NFP was an abortion.

    • NoNo NikNac

      Ummm. No.

      NFP is monitoring a woman’s bodily signs so she and her husband can decide if they want to conceive or postpone a pregnancy. One of the foundational principles is acknowledging that sex and babies go together and that having sex means being open to a baby. There is no meeting of sperm and egg with NFP. It’s all about charting and communication (which you apparently missed). It’s what a couple does with that information that may contribute to conceiving a baby. Saying NFP resulted in an abortion is like saying reading a recipe made you fat.

      On the other hand, many forms of contraception are abortifacient and cause early abortions. Maybe you’re confused about which method you were using.

    • JJ

      We have been using NFP for 15 years and it had never failed. This is not rocket science.

  • James

    Yes, I have met women who want more children, but feel they “shouldn’t” have more. It’s wonderful that the Catholic Church supports these desires when secular society does not.

    what about the women who genuinely have very little interest in
    children? I am not talking about fear, but a genuine lack of interest. It’s a small percentage, but not a non-existent one. These are the girls who never played with dolls as a child. Who never
    had interest in babysitting as a teenagers. Who run for the kitchen when
    the other women are cooing over someone’s new baby.

    Catholic focus on motherhood and openness to life can make these women feel extremely unwelcome in Church.

    • Terri K

      Any woman who doesn’t “want” a child can use a foolproof method that is free and universally available: abstinence.