Natural Family Planning. Let's break that phrase down a bit, shall we? First - that word "Natural." It's all the rave these days, as more and more people are trying to avoid synthetics, artificials, and toxins in an effort to achieve a more holistic, organic, healthy lifestyle. The problem is, as any food snob can tell you, that word "natural" is not synonymous with holistic, organic, OR healthy/healthful. In fact, when used in food labeling, the term "Natural" is largely up to the interpretation of the food producer. Unsuspecting consumers often unwittingly opt for the "Natural" foods based upon what natural means to them, when in fact they have no idea what it means to the producer.
The term "natural" in and of itself, however, does have a standardized definition. (Many, actually.)
Definition of NATURAL
: based on an inherent sense of right and wrong
a : being in accordance with or determined by nature
b : having or constituting a classification based on features existing in nature
a (1) : begotten as distinguished from adopted; also : legitimate
(2) : being a relation by actual consanguinity as distinguished from adoption
b : illegitimate
: having an essential relation with someone or something : following from the nature of the one in question
: implanted or being as if implanted by nature : seemingly inborn
: of or relating to nature as an object of study and research
: having a specified character by nature
a : occurring in conformity with the ordinary course of nature : not marvelous or supernatural
b : formulated by human reason alone rather than revelation
c : having a normal or usual character
: possessing or exhibiting the higher qualities (as kindliness and affection) of human nature
a : growing without human care; also : not cultivated
b : existing in or produced by nature : not artificial
c : relating to or being natural food
a : being in a state of nature without spiritual enlightenment : unregenerate
b : living in or as if in a state of nature untouched by the influences of civilization and society
a : having a physical or real existence as contrasted with one that is spiritual, intellectual, or fictitious
b : of, relating to, or operating in the physical as opposed to the spiritual world
a : closely resembling an original : true to nature
b : marked by easy simplicity and freedom from artificiality, affectation, or constraint
c : having a form or appearance found in nature
a : having neither flats nor sharps
b : being neither sharp nor flat
c : having the pitch modified by the natural sign
: of an off-white or beige color
— nat·u·ral·ness noun
When we use the word "Natural" within the larger term "Natural Family Planning," I believe we mean to invoke several of these definitions above, namely #2, #10b, and #13b. We mean to invoke a feeling that this way of living, within the context of marriage, is in accordance with and determined by (and cooperating with) nature. We mean to imply that there is nothing artificial about it, but rather that it exists in and is produced by nature. And we mean to say that there is a marked simplicity about it, as a result.
What strikes me is that the definition we do not generally intend is the very first one: based on an inherent sense of right and wrong.
And yet, shouldn't that be the most important aspect of the word? Well... perhaps it is. We'll revisit this in a moment.
Let's move on to the second part of the phrase: Family Planning.
Pretty straightforward, right? I think we can all agree on the intended definition of Family Planning as a means of planning a family in the traditional sense of when a pregnancy is to be avoided or spaced, and when the time for a/nother child is deemed appropriate by the parents.
Interestingly, this commonly held interpretation of the word "family" within the context of "family planning" is loosely encompassed in the #5 definition of the word by Merriam-Webster:
a : the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children; also : any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family
b : spouse and children
(Take note, none of the definitions defined a family as a married couple with no children. No shocker there.)
And finally, the word planning is given in the following context:
: the act or process of making or carrying out plans; specifically : the establishment of goals, policies, and procedures for a social or economic unit
Therein, my friends, lies the bread and butter of this post.
Planning. Oy. Where do I begin.
For starters, on nearly every large-scale article or smaller-scale blog post even remotely touching the topic of Natural Family Planning, I have found comments from our delightful little Infertile Peanut Gallery (I say that lovingly, as a Member of her Board), gently or not-so-gently reminding everyone that NFP is not JUST about avoiding or spacing pregnancies, that the luxury of planning a family is not taken for granted by those of us who suffer from infertility, and that many of us require the use of a system to help us identify underlying health issues. I also hear arguments from couples using the system to space children, defending their natural right to do so, as well as arguments from people not using NFP who question the motives and intentions of couples who do.
But this post? It is about none of those things.
Understandably, I am in quite a unique position, with an even more unique vantage point. I am infertile. I did use NFP for years (to try to achieve pregnancy). I have been teaching the Creighton Model FertilityCare System for over 5 years, to couples and singles from all different walks of life.
But, the fact is this. (Are you ready?)
I loathe NFP.
There. I said it. And I mean it. But probably not for the reasons you think.
See, I find an absolute beauty and truth in the very thing I teach on a daily basis, the very thing that first planted seeds in my life in 2006, and continues to bear more and more seasons of fruit to present day. I trust that the knowledge we have been given of our cycles and times of fertility and infertility is divine. Most importantly, I believe a couple has been given these "Natural" signs as a means of using them, "Naturally," to choose intimacy or abstinence on any given day, and according to their "Natural" intentions for their "Family." Whoooooaaaaa. That was a whole lot of quotations. But my interpretation is simple: God gave us these easily visible, easily interpreted signs and symptoms for a reason - to USE them. And it is a NATURAL thing to have these signs, and a NATURAL thing to want to have your PLANS in FAMILY building be layed out before you.
What is UN-Natural, on the other hand, is that we think any of this actually works. You read that right. No, no, I'm not talking about the statistics of use, which are overwhelmingly high for both avoiding pregnancy and for achieving. And I'm not talking about the statistics of how strong marriages are of couples using NFP versus those who don't. I'm not even talking about the logistics of charting itself. I am speaking about the underlying mentality that what we do to PLAN our FAMILY, or to PLAN ANYTHING, for that matter, matters at all in the grand scheme of things.
It's easy to forget, especially if NFP "works" for you (by measure of your own perception), that the 3rd party involved is not an equal party member, but The Big Kahuna Himself. It's easy to assume that by following the rules of NFP according to your desired intention (to space, avoid, or achieve pregnancy), you actually hold the ability to make OR carry out that plan. It's easy to see the desired outcome make itself known and to then become all too comfortable in future "Planning" endeavors.
Let me just say this: My biggest problem with Natural Family Planning is that it is a misnomer, and as such, gives too many users and non-users alike the wrong impression of its application.
I've heard many an infertile woman lament that they could not "plan" their family. They did not "plan" for their Drs to see their lady business more frequently than their husbands, nor did they plan to do 14 treatment cycles and spend a gazillion dollars, nor did they plan to be 45 years old when they finally achieved pregnancy. And furthermore, I've heard many single women mourn the fact that they have not even the chance to "plan" in the sense of the word family planning, and that if it had been up to them, their family would have started with a spouse years and years ago.
But again, this is not exactly what I'm talking about.
Rather, I think that Family Planning in and of itself is UN-Natural. I think any planning which leads us to believe we are in control of the course of our life is dangerous, at best. Way too often, we see the culmination of the plans we set out for ourselves, in the way we desired, and then expect that same result in every arena, for every plan, and for every goal set in our lives. Likewise too often, we change our plans when they don't work out our way. For example, in infertility, often a couple will choose the path of adoption, and in doing so, are really just changing their Family Planning by setting the goal to adoption rather than pregnancy. Once an adoption occurs, we often hear it said that this was God's Plan all along... but was it? Don't get me wrong. I adore adoption, and wish with all of my heart I could plan my family in the same way. But the process to adopt is another brand of Family Planning which asks of the couple the same criteria as Natural Family Planning: a) to agree in their intention of use, b) to understand that the timing may not be exactly the same from couple to couple, and c) to be open to life.
It is in how we interpret these words Family and Planning, and their combination Family Planning which leads me to find them anything BUT Natural.
Right about now you're probably wondering... wait, didn't she say something about beauty and truth, and fruit and knowledge?? Was this the same post???
Yes. It was.
You may have heard the phrase: To err is human, to forgive, divine.
I say: To PLAN is human, to accept, divine.
We are going to plan. It's what we do. As unnatural as it might be, because in the end, it is not our plan for our lives that matters. But, we can't escape the planning mentality. Our years are broken into 12 months, and those into 7-day weeks, and those into 24-hour days. I imagine the human void of ANY type of planning whatsoever may either be a raging lunatic by the end of his lifetime, or a saint. Could go either way, really.
And so, we go with it. We plan. We succeed. We plan again. We succeed, maybe in a slightly different way than originally intended, but nonetheless, we succeed. We plan again. We...
Now, it is fully up to your understanding of God, and His presence in your life, and His plan that will make, or break you in this moment.
We cannot only accept God as the true planner in moments of success, NOR can we only accept His love and comfort in times of failure. We must recognize Him in both. We must understand that we can plan and plan and plan all the livelong day, and it makes not an iota of difference in our spiritual makeup or our final destination. Coming back to Natural Family Planning - we must also understand that THERE IS NO SUCH THING.
What I do every day at work, with couples learning this highly effective form of NFP, is listen, observe, and maybe impart some knowledge from time to time. Not unlike what my client couples do as they track the signs and symptoms of their fertility cycles: they listen to their bodies, observe the signs, and maybe impart some knowledge to each other about what is happening hormonally in those moments. But all of this, myself included, serves merely as tools to a deeper understanding for the couple who uses NFP. An understanding that they must approach it from that very first definition of the word "Natural"- based on an inherent sense of right and wrong. The understanding that it's not about Natural, it's not about Family, it's not about Planning. It's about LIFE. It's about GOD. It's about the things you cannot, could not, would never plan. It's about ACCEPTANCE.
Holy. Life. Acceptance. Now there's a "plan" I could get on board with :)