Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way

29. Large Families, Child Spacing Practice, and When to Start NFP

I have been admonished, warned, reminded, and then re-reminded to tell the readers that this book is not anti-baby, not antinatalist. This book is addressed not to "population problems" but to families. Nor does it adopt a doctrinaire stand on demographic questions.

Thus we shy away from terms such as regulation of births which smack of population policy. Rather than speak of "births" we prefer to speak of babies and children.

I suppose everyone in his right mind loves the bustle of a large family. Pope Pius XII spoke admiringly of large families as "those most blessed by God and specially loved and praised by the Church as its most precious treasures." (Address of Jan. 20, 1958.)

When parents omit family planning and accept children as they come, they act laudably so long as this is within the bounds of prudent human foresight. But not every couple can afford a large family, nor is every couple physiologically or psychologically up to it. Such couples laudably employ NFP to tailor the family size to their capabilities. As Pope Pius XII said, the boundaries of legitimacy here are very wide. (Address to Family Front, Nov. 26, 1951.) We do not sit in judgment on which family is better or more heroic.

By providing education in NFP, we respond to the needs of many couples in the world who look for freedom to adjust family size to their situation, whether in housing, income, health, or ability to cope. We help the father to be king in his house, and the mother to be queen. They are in control. in regard to family size couples are not subject to arbitrary government interference. In this area they are indeed king and queen in their homes. And we say: if they are able and wish to rear a large family, God be with them.

Dr. Herbert Ratner, editor of Child and Family magazine, thinks no one can improve on nature's method of spacing births, usually by means of breast-feeding:

To find the paradigm - the optimum and natural interval between births - one must turn to the breast-feeding mother. Here the average interval between births is approximately two years. Sensitivity to the accumulated wisdom of nature gives us reason to suspect that many yet-to-be discovered subtleties, contributing to the optimum, will relate to nature's spacing.

Artificial child-spacing is a practice which has been extensively promoted by birth-control organizations, cultivated and implemented by gynecologists, and seized upon by social engineers ....Instead of wisdom these specialties have substituted myths. (International Review of Natural Family Planning, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 1978, p. 12).

Dr. Ratner then presents reasons why the spacing of about two years, which he calls "nature's prescription," is advantageous:

Nature's prescription not only shortens the obligations of the preschool period, (1) it brings youth to childbearing and the arduous early childbearing years, (2) it permits children to grow up with more intimately shared lives, (3) it closes the generation gap between parent and child, particularly valuable in the adolescent years, (4) it lengthens the joys of parenthood and grand-parenthood, (5) it allows for leeway in case of obstetrical misfortunes and tragic events, (6) it gives parents the opportunity to reexamine their goals while reproductive options are still available, and (7) it rids the couple of fear of an unplanned pregnancy with each love act, permitting them blissfully to ignore birth control for nine years or more during the period of greatest sexual activity. (Ibid.)

Not all the experts agree that ignoring birth control early in the marriage is the best policy, especially for young couples. Dr. Josef Roetzer, who has guided couples in the practice of NFP for 25 years, advises young couples to start the NFP pattern of life right away, from the beginning of their married life. It is easier for them to learn the symptoms of fertility and to become accustomed to the NFP pattern of life before the children come into the marriage than afterwards. He advises them to familiarize themselves thoroughly with the NFP system and become confident about its reliability, before they try to achieve their first pregnancy.

Some of his clients cooperate with experiments when they are ready for a pregnancy: before using the days of maximum fertility for intercourse, they try the "borderline days" to locate the boundary line of their fertility more precisely. it they do not become pregnant, they proceed to use the most fertile time.

Dr. Roetzer reports that clients are well satisfied with this procedure. Some of the young couples not only wish to "practice" NFP for some months, but wish to postpone the first pregnancy for a longer time because of serious reasons. He made a survey of 86 couples who practiced NFP from the beginning of marriage, some of them for five or six years. He learned that all 86 couples had happily achieved their desired pregnancy within one, two, or three months after trying. (The sample is small and one cannot extrapolate; the odds are against 100% success because of infertility problems.)

Dr. Roetzer is now doing a prospective study on clients which should be of major importance to illustrate how effective NFP can be if it is taught well, and if the couples are serious about wanting to use it successfully. In his retrospective studies, the effectiveness rate is above 99%; and when couples confined intercourse to the indicated high temperature phase of the pre-menstrual time, the record is a clean 100% during 17,026 cycles. When one sees such records, one looks for reasons. Perhaps one big reason is that many of his couples start "practicing" NFP during the initial months of marriage; then the children come; thereafter it is easy for the couple to control fertility for the rest of their married life, as their conditions indicate. They are always masters of the situation because they learned NFP early.

Advising couples to "practice" NFP for at least some months before they try to achieve a pregnancy strikes me as thoroughly good advice in many cases. Our modern age exerts pressures on young people which induces many to marry at an early age. On the other hand, proper housing is not always available to them; and professional education goes on for long years. We must offer help to everyone, also those young people who start married life in circumstances which are not ideal because of social conditions. Surely many young couples search for a sound and natural solution, and they want to stay away from the pill, the IUD, all artificial means, as well as sterilization and dreaded abortion. If they start NFP with marriage, they can learn the system perfectly while marking time until conditions to bear children become favorable for them.

Another consideration favoring early NFP is presented by experienced teachers who say that it may be harder to begin periodic abstinence after ten years of married life, than very early. Couples establish a pattern if they begin right away; the rhythmic "courtship and honeymoon" cycle is viewed as their normal fulfilment of expectations. Whereas couples who have already established another pattern and experienced it for ten or twenty years, have some initial difficulties to switch patterns. It is not a compelling reason, but teachers mention it.

Finally, NFP is hardest of all to learn during the postpartum, when fertility itself, and with it the signs, are being re-established slowly. If couples have all their planned children first, and abruptly begin a "do or die" regime of birth control during the postpartum, tensions rise. It is the custom in Japan, for example, to have one, two, or three children during the early years of marriage, then to stop for good. The two million abortions per year in Japan are, to a large extent, rejected children who were conceived after couples had terminated the planned birth schedule. We look to a brighter future in Japan, when couples will be in control of their fertility because they can easily fall back on NFP when they wish, since they learned it when they began married life.

Some may well question the wisdom of a universal recommendation to practice NFP at the very start of marriage. What seems good in Japan and Austria may not apply everywhere. Perhaps this question merits discussion, study, and research.

When all is said and done, NFP provides couples with conscientious freedom to decide the number of their children. With that freedom they also carry the responsibility that goes with freedom. And man, being prone to evil as well as to good, must constantly stir up within himself the springs of generosity, which may run dry if not refreshed. We must urge ourselves to be generous; we must listen to others who urge us to be generous.

May I close my observations with the words of Pope John Paul II, spoken in Washington, D.C., Oct. 7, 1979:

In order that Christian marriage may favor the total good and development of the married couple, it must be inspired by the Gospel, and thus be open to new life-new life to be given and accepted generously. The couple is also called to create a family atmosphere in which children can be happy, and lead full and worthy human and Christian lives.

To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others and share their burdens (cf. Gal. 6:2; PH 2:2). Each one must show concern, not only for his or her own life, but also for the lives of the other members of the family: their needs, their hopes, their ideals. Decision about the number of children and the sacrifices to be made for them must not be taken only with a view of adding to comfort and preserving a peaceful existence. Reflecting upon this matter before God, with the graces drawn from the sacrament, and guided by the teaching of the Church, parents will remind themselves that it is certainly less serious to deny their children certain comforts or material advantages than to deprive them of the presence of brothers and sisters, who could help them to grow in humanity and to realize the beauty of life at all its ages and in all its variety.

by The Coordinator

**************End Part 1: Experience************

Next Page: 30. Science and NFP; social sciences
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