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

23. A Rage against Humanae Vitae

Gene: We're part of the NFP teaching program of the Newark diocese. The program is growing all the time; at present there are three centers for teaching at Catholic hospitals in the diocese, and in September there will be a fourth. We are here to relate our own personal experience. We have five children.

Judy: Yes, we have four boys and a girl; the oldest is 13, and the youngest is four, and today is his birthday.

Gene: Maybe we should begin by telling you that when we were married in 1964 there were of course some cultural differences from today. If you were married then and not pregnant in the first year, your parents wanted to know how come. And today if you're pregnant in the first year, they want to know why! Young people who become engaged and get married today have different pressures and problems to face. Let us tell you how we faced ours at the time, and where we are today.

We had difficulty achieving a pregnancy early in our marriage. We attended a rhythm clinic to help us achieve a pregnancy. After two years we had our first child. About 18 months later - we were practicing rhythm now to space children - we had our second child. And after 17 months more we had our third. We were finding out that calendar rhythm was ineffective in terms of fertility control for us.

During that span of five years in which we were having the first three children, Judy also had a Caesarean for the third one, and she had a major gall bladder operation, and several miscarriages. So after five years of this Judy thought that she was kind of moving into the hospital permanently. Then we panicked after these five years of such fertility experience. We projected our fertility into the remaining years and got quite scared when we saw this 12-14-16 child family ahead.

We were experiencing about three to three and a half weeks of abstinence practicing calendar rhythm, and arriving at no fertility control. So we sought the counsel of a priest and a Catholic doctor, and with their support but on our own moral decision, we decided that contraception was the proper choice for us.

And we were delighted - I'll say, I was personally delighted - that we finally found something that gave us the opportunity to have uninterrupted sexual experiences, after coming off the three and a half weeks of abstinence. Judy was taking the pill, as that was the leading contraceptive at that time, towards the end of the 1960s.

I remember particularly well that while Judy was pregnant with the third child, how I was working on one Saturday; I was crossing Liberty Street in downtown Manhattan and reading The New York Times, and learned there that the pope had come out with this encyclical Humanae Vitae. I fell into a rage.

I was just filled with rage. I could not believe that he had taken such an incredible stand, given the circumstances in which I found myself, with my concerns for my wife and my family. A tremendous rage was in me: at the Church, at the pope, at his stand, at his incomprehensible position, viewed from where I was at that time, in 1968.

We practiced contraception for three years, and at first I was delighted with it, as I said. That lasted about six months, of just sheer romance. But I can tell you that at the end of the three-year experience, we were having less sexual intercourse than we had when we were practicing calendar rhythm. Only we didn't call it abstinence. We didn't call it anything. It just sort of worked its way into our marriage.

We developed - I certainly developed - an attitude of: "If this is always here to be had, then who wants to work for it?" I grew bored with our sexual relationship. it was like lining up 400 beers and saying: "Drink all of them at once!"

I find now, looking back, that I spent a lot of time at Madison Square Garden. And I was constantly inviting my family over. We were playing cards and having a good time in the house. I found a number of ways of compensating for what I now understand was the pressure to perform. I didn't realize this at the time.

Judy stopped taking the pill after three years. We had drifted apart spiritually and psychologically, and the pill was beginning to have a physical impact on Judy. There were contraindications which would take too long to enumerate. So we went off the pill.

We had our fourth child, which we wanted to have. We were dissatisfied with contraception. We went back to calendar rhythm. And 17 months later we had Danny who is four years old today. During that pregnancy we said that there just has to be something besides calendar rhythm and contraception.

As you know, it is difficult to go to your local parish and find the answer to that. We found it in Minnesota. I never thought we would have to go to Minnesota to find the answers, but that is where they were; there and in Washington, D.C.

So we found NFP, and it was the answer to the question of fertility control as well as a way to benefit us physically, psychologically, and spiritually, leading us to a better marriage.

Judy: We have told you how we found NFP. Let me tell you something now of what it has done for us, and why we continue to practice it today. I think there were two major effects on our marriage, the first being a shared responsibility in fertility control, and the second, better communications.

In the first area of shared responsibility: I guess that without even realizing it I had begun to develop resentment about carrying what I called the "burden of fertility." I was the one who had to have the answers of whether I was fertile or whether not, I had to say yes or say no. . the area of sexuality.

There was very little verbal communication in the area of sexuality. And in 1971 we made a Marriage Encounter Weekend, through which our communications in general improved tremendously. We were able to deal with our feelings and started to talk to each other differently. Still the area of sexuality was something that if we didn't want to bring it up, we didn't have to, and we could avoid it. And that was a difficult area for me to talk about because I came into marriage with certain attitudes and myths about who men are and who women are supposed to be. I had the idea that men were supposed to be very aggressive and women were supposed to be passive, and things like that. It was in this situation that we started to practice NFP.

With NFP came this surge of understanding that Gene was really involved in this whole area with me. For the first time I understood that this is an equal responsibility. It was like lifting a cloud from over my head. It had been a heavy weight that I had been carrying around and I didn't even realize it. This had been a block against building a better relationship, against giving scope to our marriage to grow and become more mature.

Gene: My initial involvement in NFP was doing the charting, that is, taking down Judy's temperature daily and recording her fertility signs. That is the way we teach it, namely that the wife observes her natural signs, the husband charts them, and both together interpret their fertility.

When I entered marriage, I thought that Judy understood all about these things. I was taught that women were supposed to know all these things, so I thought she did. And I supposed that whatever she didn't know, she could ask her doctor. I didn't realize that both of them had difficulty in this area. But if even they had difficulties, I certainly had even more. I knew nothing at all about Judy's physiology, and about my own masculinity and how it operated. Now for the first time in my life I was able to participate in an area about which I had been confused and jealous and ignorant.

Judy: I realized clearly that our lifetime commitment, which we made when we got married, served as the solid basis which allowed us to come this far in our life. it was this that enabled us to re-evaluate, and then to begin to make some changes. We were committed to the idea of a great marriage. That's the way we started and that was our goal. And that commitment was what allowed us to have the flexibility to fight each other, and then to keep coming back and to hang in there, and to move to a new point in our life. I think that attitude about permanence and fidelity is really the basis for all the other decisions we have to make in life.

Gene: I entered marriage with the idea that I had to be the performer; that I was responsible for all of our sexual activity in terms of whether it was good or bad. I had to make it good.

I thought that God looked the other way when we had intercourse. I had no idea that God was really an integrated part of that whole area. I know that's tainted and immature. But that's where I was at the time.

Through NFP, through communicating, by being able to talk with Judy, I came to appreciate a spiritual dimension of our sexual relationship, which I hadn't seen at all before. We hadn't been expressing ourselves. We were afraid, when we first began NFP, even to say the word mucus.

Judy: Abstinence helps to uncover some of the other areas of marriage which have to be looked at, but which get iced over frequently by intercourse. You know how we tend to think that if we can have intercourse then everything will be okay again, and well feel better tomorrow, and all will be sunshine and roses. But the problems are still there, and we don't face them.

When practicing abstinence and trying to make it a positive and creative experience, many of these issues come to light. A new kind of awareness and sensitivity about each other begins to happen. Oh, we fight, and more than we ever did. But they are like two-minute fights, and things come to light so much faster and get handled so much better. That is because we are aware of the atmosphere we are setting, we're aware of where I am in the cycle, and things like that. It helps so much with the atmosphere in the house, the way we relate sexually, the way we relate with the children, the way I feel and he feels about our own sexuality, about femininity and masculinity.

Gene: I want to say only this last thing: I created an impression, saying that I was filled with rage about Pope Paul and his encyclical Humanae Vitae. I thank Pope Paul today. And I thank God for giving him this insight into things. I just didn't understand what he was talking about, until we spent three years using contraception.

by Gene and Judy

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