Many of us in the pro-life movement have heard someone make the claim that they're firmly against abortion but see nothing wrong with contraception. This statement shows a common confusion that blurs the truth, espoused and cherished by our Church, about the gift of life and the dignity of every person. This truth, clearly rooted in Vatican II ("Gaudium et Spes") reiterated in "Humanae Vitae" and extensively affirmed by the USCCB in the document "Married Life and the Gift of Love," is, despite rejection by 80 percent of Catholic couples, still the truth.
What does this confusion do to these couples? Suffice it to say that deep in the fiber of their love, beneath the surface of their vows, this mistaken perception resides in all its potential to erode that fiber and foster a guilt they can't identify and a subliminal dissatisfaction that they can't fix. Those of us in the Natural Family Planning field call this the "contraceptive mentality," a pervasive and persistent roadblock to the desire of their hearts to give themselves totally to each other.
The divorce rate for first marriages in the country hovers around 50 percent. For couples who practice NFP, it is less than 3 percent. Truth between spouses is at the heart of these statistics and we, as Church, must help them as they find their way.
This contraceptive mentality, even among Catholic couples, presented a great challenge to me as a practitioner. In no way could I blame them for living out this cultural falsehood, but it was my job to disavow these couples of the notion that NFP is just Catholic birth control.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Natural Family Planning follows the natural ebb and flow of a woman's fertility, guiding her and her husband to use the gift of her periodic windows of fertility to conceive and the gift of her periodic times of infertility to engage in loving intimacy without conceiving. All of these times are given by God. God's presence in the couple's relationship leaves them totally open to life.
This is why NFP is clearly not birth control as our culture defines it and also why NFP is a critical component of the pro-life movement.
A story helps illustrate this. In one instance, the wife of a couple wouldn't go off her pills because she was deeply afraid of relinquishing control over her fertility. What she didn't realize was that the pills, not she, actually controlled her fertility.
The chemicals in the pills suppressed her fertility, but did nothing to allow for a change of mind or heart during an act of love with her husband that they might want to result in conception.
Her husband was clearly devoted to her and her tears in my office obviously distressed him. He wanted to help her, but didn't know how.
After a few visits, I was able to persuade her to trust the program and her husband's loving cooperation. It took a few cycles of charting for her to see a pattern evolve and actually trust his words of love and support.
Her progress was recorded on charts and her confidence increased as she learned, but the real miracle that unfolded was the change in their relationship.
This couple, which had been so overwrought, were now free to be what they were meant to be the day they took their vows: two on the road to becoming one. As her trust in him deepened, his care for her blossomed. By the end of our first year they had clearly, together, given themselves totally to each other. There had grown between them a balance of care and trust that was truly life giving. Now they were ready to start a family.
Mary Zablocki is director of the Catholic Fertility Care Center at Sisters of Charity Hospital.