May 13, 2014

On starving babies, orphans, and natural family planning

Hopefully you have seen Blythe's fantastic post about how the Catholic Church's teachings on sex were incredibly important to her conversion to the faith. It's a gracious, intelligent post and it sparked some good comments. One of the questions really stood out to me and so I wanted to respond in my own way and in my own space. 

Anonymous wrote:
As a Christian who is searching to make sense of the faith I grew up with, I find this incredibly confusing (Disclaimer- I was raised Protestant). I do not mean to contentious but I have a few questions, all coming from a heart of love... I am wrestling through a crisis of faith and the foundation of faith I had built up can't sustain the questions keeping me awake at night. What is the point of this life? Why are we here? Who is God? Really BIG picture stuff. 

What does the Bible teach on the topic? 
What about women living in third world countries whose babies are starving? I would assume you would suggest they use NFP but that again raises questions for me... What is the difference, big picture, between NFP and and using a condom- preventing a pregnancy. My husband and I have lived and worked in Africa and seen these mamas face to face. The last thing they need is another baby... 
What about all the orphans? How can we make space in our families for these children when we keep creating babies of our own? My husband and I are blessed with two amazing little girls who we love endlessly but I feel done having babies, mostly because I believe we are called to love one another, above all this is the big picture for me. We have room for more children and want a bigger family but we feel like we should be adopting sweet babes and kids who don't have a mama and daddy. What are your thoughts on this? 

Again, please understand these questions are not meant to be malicious. I so appreciate women of faith being able to have open dialogue about our beliefs and values.



Anon, of course your questions aren't malicious! And I know you didn't ask me - you asked our lovely friend Blythe - but your questions are really dear to my heart and so I wanted to respond. I hope you don't mind me butting in. Thank you for being so genuinely interested and respectful. 

The first thing I want to say is that the point of life, why we are here, is to know, love, and serve God. That is the meaning of life, that is what will make us happy, that is what this is all about. The bottom line: to know, love, and serve God. To know Him through His Church, His Sacred Scripture. To love Him through prayer, adoration, worship, and fellowship - a true, deep relationship. To serve Him by discerning His will for your life and then joyfully living it out as a parent, spouse, priest, religious sister, doctor, teacher, volunteer, friend.

God is the Creator of everything visible and invisible. God *is* love. God is a Trinity, three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is our redeemer, our savior, our lover, our Lord. He is almighty and He cares about you. He loves you. I also believe firmly that Jesus Christ established the Catholic Church and that the Holy Spirit continues to guide it - despite the knuckleheads and sinners who make it up - so that through the Church we can have the fullness of the Christian faith, the graces needed to live a heroically virtuous life, and the Sacraments through which God gives us Himself (literally in the Eucharist).

Those are the most important things: who is God and why are we here? If we don't have the answers to those then nothing else matters. But on to your questions on NFP. 

Well, the Bible doesn't say, "Thou shalt use natural family planning under these circumstances to avoid and under these circumstances to achieve and..." The Bible does tell us the children are a blessing and God tells us to go forth and multiply. I would think based solely on Scripture that every Christian should have a quiverful of kids, but that's not what the Catholic Church says. The Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, wants us to practice responsible parenthood, to only have the children we can care for which may be seven or may be two. 

About those babies in Africa: if those moms shouldn't be having another baby then they should not be trusting a condom which could break. If someone really should not be having a child then they really should not be having sex. With natural family planning there are three phases. Phase I is a woman's period. Phase II is when she's fertile; it's the time leading up to ovulation and the approximately four days following ovulation. Phase III is the naturally infertile time after ovulation has happened. 

Speaking from personal experience I will tell you that those African mothers are capable of doing the exact same thing I've been doing: abstaining. After my last baby was born my husband and I needed a break from being pregnant. So for seven months we abstained until I had signs of fertility return so I could begin charting. Over the last three months (my baby is now ten months old) we have abstained throughout Phase I and II until my charted signs show that my fertility has passed. During Phase III we can have sex and know that we will not get pregnant. 

Is it hard to abstain? Absolutely. Does God use that time when we are abstaining to help us grow in virtues like selflessness, self control, and compassion while he also gives us the graces to persevere? Absolutely.

Finally, about the orphans. I think it is beautiful that God has placed such a call and conviction on your heart and your husband's heart. If He is asking you to adopt then He is probably also asking you to abstain during times of fertility and He will probably be using that time to strengthen other virtues, like obedience, patience, and generosity. It is also possible that He may have you adopt your next child and then bless you with another baby from your womb. Of course, I don't know exactly what God wants of you and how He's hoping to mold you and I hope you understand that I'm guessing a little bit and also projecting from my own life and experiences.

I think that part of the reason natural family planning seems so impossible is because we've been raised in a culture that has told us we can have sex whenever we want. And like Blythe said, some churches have even told their women that they needed to have sex with their husbands whenever the men wanted. To finally have a Church and it's joyful, faithful members say, "Sometimes you just shouldn't have sex," well, how do we wrap our minds around that? Is it even possible? Since middle school people have been telling me it's pretty much not possible, so make sure you have protection. So of course it seems like it's not possible. But it is. Abstinence is possible and it is worthwhile.

Finally, I want to stress something that wasn't brought up by you but I think it needs to be said. Babies are gifts. They are only gifts and they are always gifts. Sometimes they don't feel like the gift you wanted just then, but it does not change the basic fact that they are gifts. Only and always.



32 comments:

  1. Babies are gifts. They are only gifts and they are always gifts.


    Yes! Beautiful post, Bonnie.

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  2. Great post Bonnie! Another thing for this commentor to think about is that the contraception being handed out to these women is not a "cure all" for their problems and that we believe, through our social teaching, that instead of putting the bandaid of contraception or sterilization on these problems we need to be doing MORE to end the cycles of violence and poverty that mean these women need to pick and choose between the lives of their children and the realities they face.

    NFP would require us to teach these women, their husbands, their brothers, etc. about their bodies (male and female) and challenge their notions of sex and power. Handing them a condom is often just a way to say "continue on as usual".

    I wish I could remember where I read it, but there was a great study done in, I think, a poor district in India about teaching men and women a very basic method of NFP and the amazing success it had.

    Think of it this way, we believe God calls us to fix the big picture - does contraception really aid the bigger picture of fixing cycles of rape, abuse and poverty?

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    1. Wonderful, Bonnie. And Molly, I was thinking pretty much the same thing as you.

      Also, "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime." Teach a woman NFP and she doesn't need money to regulate pregnancies; she doesn't depend on other people to give her birth control to regulate pregnancies; she doesn't see herself as powerless but becomes empowered through the beauty and truth of NFP.

      Let's not be fooled by false charity: giving artificial birth control to impoverished peoples is a form of control, and looks suspiciously like eugenics.

      So glad to come across your blog today, Bonnie. Thanks for writing!


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  3. Just so beautiful! A wonderful answer! Thank you!!!

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  4. Wonderful post, Bonnie. Quick question: where can I find that image of Eve and Mary? It's simplicity is striking and I'd love to get a copy.

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    1. Yes, I love the image too. I bought it from the cloistered sisters of Our Lady of the Mississippi Monastery. I update the post with a link under the image.

      Also, if anyone is interested, those nuns also make some super good caramels! ;)

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  5. This is wonderful. You always have such a great way of saying things.

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  6. So amazing Bonnie! I absolutely love this, and I want to shout it from the rooftops to everyone who questions the decisions my husband and I have made to use NFP. The second to last paragraph is pure gold.

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  7. I pray for the day when NFP is the norm and contraception is "counter-cultural." I feel fortunate to be part of a church who hasn't changed it's mind about truth and whose message is always always Christ-centered. Thank you for articulating this so well!

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  8. In Africa, large families are considered a blessing and children are wanted there. I've read essays by African women saying that they don't need more condoms or other forms of birth control, they need more formal education for their women. If their girls leave school after the elementary years, they are more likely to marry and start having children at a very young age thus increasing the number of children they have. Girls and women who have the opportunity to finish high school and, perhaps, go to university, marry later and have children later which naturally limits the number of children they have. A village of educated women is better for EVERYONE in the community--men, women, boys and girls. This is where our aid needs to go--education not contraception.

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  9. This is beautiful, Bonnie! And if she would like to hear directly from an African women just how pro-life and pro-children that continent is, I would love to direct her to this incredible Nigerian woman who speaks directly to those questions:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2012/08/an-african-womans-open-letter-to.html

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Yes, I thought of that post at your blog, too, Leila! I hope Melinda Gates read it.

      Anne

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  10. As an adoptive and biological mother and recent Catholic convert, this hits on deep things in my heart. I have been through a spectrum of being unsure I even wanted bio kids because of the great need for adoptive families, to now being open to having as many pregnancies as God could graciously give me- WITH the hopes of adopting again as well.

    Where I have personally landed, and what I would tell others, is that because of Christ's sacrifice there is such grace to do so much more than we could imagine. There truly is room for openness to life to mean both biologically and through adoption and foster care. I do pray that more Catholic families respond to the call to adopt, because Catholic teaching calls us all to sacrifice on behalf of Life. But this is not at all in opposition to openness to life and refusing contraception.

    And I love what you said about our understanding of abstinence being wrong influenced by culture, Bonnie. Spot on!

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    1. Shannon, let's talk! I'm a Korean adoptee and my husband and I have two biological kids and one son who's adopted (also from Korea). For too long we've thought of adoption as an either/or type thing - either we're having biological kids or putting that on hold and adopting - rather than being simultaneously open to both. Your comment really speaks to my heart because being open to life means being open to life! Being receptive to God's graces means we don't question or try to overly control when or why or how. When we look at our children, we know that each was destined for our family. How they got here matters little once they're, well, here!

      P.S. I'm a revert. I went to Catholic school, was married and baptized my children in a Catholic church, but had little appreciation for rites, saints, etc. It's nice to be "home" again!

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  11. This is just wonderful. I love reading your posts :)

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  12. Also to anonymous.. There are many women who cannot have large families and they are certainly called to consider adoption. Another thought, I had as I read this post. Often we think the only solution to the problems of poverty facing Third World Women is to sterilize them or at least give them birth control.. All faithful men and women should instead be thinking, how can we make it possible for them to raise their children with healthier conditions. How can we help them feed their families, support their families, provide clean water for their families and end the violence in certain parts of the continent. I feel like these are the most Christ-centered problems to solve.

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  13. Great response to Anonymous's question. And WOOHOO Bonnie and Travis! Is it weird that I am so happy that you and Travis are having sex after a long dry spell?? How wonderful. So happy to hear your fertility signs returned. :)

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  14. Super post. The wisdom of the Church always protects us.

    Anne

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  15. Awesome post Bonnie! And thank you for sharing your own personal experience. I love your blog

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  16. Excellent, Bonnie. "Babies are gifts. They are only gifts and they are always gifts." Is that your quote? Just in case I need to make a meme or something. ;)

    I was reminded of the passage in Something Other Than God where Jennifer finally realizes that there is a list of acceptable conditions under which people have a sex, and a list of acceptable conditions under which people have babies. Throughout history, those two lists were identical in almost all cultures. Until now. This is called "progress" or "liberation" by some, but I call it regression. A regression to our most base instincts, rather than progressing into self-discipline and enlightenment.

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    1. Kaitlin at More Like Mary was the first person I heard say that, but then I noticed a lot of people say it. So I don't know who to give credit to!

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  17. This is so well-written, Bonnie. Love it.

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  18. Bonnie, I am sharing on FB. I grew up in the Philippines and get the same thoughts on why women in developing countries should still have babies. Thank you!

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  19. Hi Bonnie. I am a new Catholic and a new reader of yours (and basically every other Catholic mommy blogger in the world. I love you guys).
    NFP is something I am struggling with. I understand and agree with the Church's teaching, but understanding and doing are worlds apart. I had been on hormonal birth control for 8 years (minus the 9 or so months I was pregnant-- unplanned) and though we would love more children we are struggling financially as it is. That being said, I ran out of my last pack of birth control on Valentines Day and haven't taken any since. My fiance and I will be married in June and we have been abstinent since Lent began and plan to remain so until we are wed. It is hard, so hard. And, I fear the abstinent times after marriage will be even harder. But, thanks for helping me through this, and giving me hope.

    I am just worried that I am not going to practice NFP properly and will feel irresponsible if we get pregnant. Any thoughts on that?

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    1. Hey! Congratulations on coming home! Being Catholic is so great! And congratulations on your upcoming marriage! Being married is also so great. :)

      I applaud you and your fiancé for your commitment to live chastely! (Also, I snooped around on your blog a bit - it's cute!)

      You're right: it is hard. I do rely on the graces that come from the Sacrament of Matrimony to help me with my marriage - to not nag, to support him, to be generous and forgiving and attentive, and to get us through times of abstinence. I encourage you and your soon-to-be-spouse to do the same.

      I know how you feel about the whole not practice NFP properly thing. A while ago Dwija at House Unseen had a really beautiful post on that very thing that was SO hard for me to read because I have often felt like a NFP failure. We have also felt irresponsible for getting pregnant but it has made us work harder to improve our lives and strengthened our resolve during Phase II.

      I encourage you to find a teacher - maybe your priest can get you in touch with someone and even offer sponsorship if you can't afford the cost - because they will walk your through it all and will be available to you after the classes end. (If money is a problem and your priest can't think of someone to help you please email me and let me know so I can help you - classes are your best bet at "doing it right".)

      Abstinence is hard - I am not going to lie to you about that. And if you are looking to postpone pregnancy and aren't too confident in charting you will probably need to be really conservative.

      HOWEVER! If you do become pregnant - WHAT A BLESSING! WHAT A GIFT! A sibling for your child, another babe to love, an eternal legacy!

      If you get pregnant will there be a whole mess of emotions? Yes, probably. But move past the bad, celebrate the good, know that God has blessed you, and ask Him to provide for you.

      God gives us more than we can handle all the time but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. God loves you and He will be faithful and generous, I am certain.

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    2. Thanks, Bonnie. You are just so sweet.

      You are right. It surely wouldn't be the end of the world if we do get pregnant. I think we could make it work, or more accurately, God will. Coming from a secular world view, it is hard not to see NFP as "have all the babies".
      Chances are high that we might get pregnant if we are not conservative, and I guess it would be okay, but very hard. I guess, pick your sacrifice. I am not as worried as I was even days ago, because I am coming to accept that life is full of sacrifice and suffering- but they don't define you- your response to them does.

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    3. Also, I just read a buncha your posts about NFP, and NFP struggles and I wish IL was closer to MN than it already is, beause I want to sit in your kitchen with coffee and talk!

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