Is it Ever Too Late for Natural Family Planning?

NFP Week 2013

It’s been an interesting NFP Awareness week here at The Practicing Catholic. It probably comes as no surprise that we lost a few followers. Are we disappointed? Sure, a bit. Our goal has been to share the beauty of the Church’s teaching about human sexuality through the lens of natural family planning — to put the truth out there as best we can and also do so charitably. We felt called to write this series, in part, to become more comfortable articulating that message. For many couples we speak with, this is THE topic they wrestle with most in trying to live their faith outside of Sunday Mass. WHAT does the Church teach, WHY does She teach it, and HOW do we live it out faithfully are common questions received. We understand it all can be a bit difficult to hear — we didn’t always practice natural family planning, either. But once exposed to the truth, we couldn’t deny it. It convicted us, and we knew we had to do better. To some degree it pains us that people would walk away from this message.

So as long as we seem to be on something of a roll, there’s one more topic we’re feeling called to specifically address. It’s one that comes up all the time in social situations. It goes something like this …

Why didn’t anyone tell us about natural family planning when we were younger? Now that we’re done having kids, what are we supposed to do?

Well, what does it mean to be “done having kids”? From our experience in conversing with couples, this essentially is one of three different scenarios. We flesh them out below (yes, flesh seems the proper word here).

#1. Sure, I suppose I could still get pregnant but my youngest is a freshman in high school.

If you’re still fertile, it’s never too late to start practicing NFP. The fact you have come to this information and your heart is open to it might indicate that you’re being called to have another child[ren]. Try thinking of this as an exciting new journey that you and your spouse begin together. The communication and collaboration required to practice NFP effectively may strengthen your marriage and deepen your intimacy in ways you can’t even imagine now. Keep in mind, you may not become pregnant. But if you do, from a practical standpoint, maybe you’re more financially stable now than when you started having children years ago. Also, consider the positive moral effect your witness of openness to life will have on your older children. In addition, helping raise a new brother or sister may give your teenagers an appreciation for both the joys and responsibilities that come with having a baby. Finally from an uber-practical standpoint, you have built-in babysitters.

#2. When we decided we were done having kids, we “got fixed.”

Most couples who have chosen to be surgically sterilized by either tubal ligation or vasectomy (or both) want to know one thing: do I have to get my surgery reversed? Not necessarily. Although some people do choose to have their surgeries reversed, this is not an option for everyone, and therefore not required. Perhaps, the most important thing is to get accurate medical information to determine whether a reversal is possible, and then discern if you are being called to undergo such a procedure.

Keep in mind that you can still learn NFP and practice it even if the surgery isn’t reversed. This will be a challenge and commitment, but it’s a great way to experience the many benefits of NFP beyond helping families space births. For many women, NFP/fertility awareness methods offer terrific ways to monitor for early warning signs of potential health issues as well.

3) The baby train has left the station. We’ve moved on to hot flashes and night sweats.

Now that Lisa is visibly showing with our third child in womb, she’s had several middle-aged woman approach her and mention how they are so sad to have stopped having kids after the second one was born. Time and again we hear regret in the voices of people who were never exposed to the healthy, life-affirming alternative of natural family planning. Just because you didn’t practice NFP in your childbearing years doesn’t mean you can’t advocate for it now. Help build a culture of life by being vocal about your conversion of heart. Many couples are hurting today because the Church’s teaching of NFP has never been shared with them, and they are often more open to listening to people who have shared their experiences. The gospel is often not lived because it has not been heard.

To some degree, the answer to these three scenarios is quite similar. We’ll conclude with wisdom from Archbishop Charles Chaput.

“Marital love is always life-giving when spouses give themselves honestly to each other, even if a child isn’t conceived. Only when husband and wife intentionally withhold their fertility, or abuse their sexuality in some other way, can we speak of a “life-less” act of intercourse … if a husband and wife choose to trust God, their love will always be rewarded with fertility and new life — if not in the form of a child, then in the way they impact the world around them.”

Links to other posts in this NFP series:

DISCLAIMER: This series is meant to inform and spark conversation about the Church’s teaching on respect for human life. While these answers are in-line with Catholic Tradition, they are by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. We are not bioethicists nor moral theologians and do not claim to speak on behalf of the Church in answering them. For more information, dive into resources provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. **Special thanks to Fr. Albert Bruecken, Conception Seminary College, and Adam Storey, Director of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Des Moines, for sharing inspiration, ideas, and words for this series.

This post is linked up with NFP Link Week hosted at the blog NFP and Me.

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  1. Karey says

    Thanks for sharing this series. In our early marriage,other than in our marriage prep class, we never heard anything about NFP from priests or other Catholics. I have heard people express disapproval when Deacon Condon promotes this aspect of the church’s teaching at mass, which I think is very unfortunate.

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