I first heard about NFP (natural family planning) when I was a young single college student at BYU. My professor of my history of western civilizations honors class said that it was a traditional form of birth control for Catholics. That piqued my interest and planted a seed. I wondered why Catholics used it. When I met and married my husband, he was in no way interested in it. Of course, he used the old joke on me, “What do they call people who use NFP?…Parents!” (I didn’t laugh, because I wanted to be a parent!)
I had to gradually keep bringing up the idea to him and learn more about it myself. Was NFP just some old thing that was just for Catholics, or did it have relevance to me, a new Mormon bride? As I learned more and more, especially by reading these books pictured below, and reading statements by the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I decided that NFP applied to me as well and I wanted to use it.
It’s Providential that NFP Awareness Week is in July because July is also the month when I celebrate our full conversion to NFP. After our fourth child was born in July 14 years ago, my dh was finally ready to rely on ecological breastfeeding and then NFP to space our children. So in July not only do I celebrate the independence of the U.S., but I celebrate my independence from the health hazards of the birth control conveyor belt! I am so happy with the results. Our marriage has been made stronger because we use NFP. I haven’t suffered any side effects from artificial contraception. I have had babies when I wanted to and have avoided pregnancy when I felt my health warranted it. I hope to someday be at the point that Michelle Duggar is at when I can just have as many babies as can come. I hope I have a few years of fertility left and know my family isn’t done.
So every day this week I am going to post a section from the chapter on birth control from my book, Tree of Life Mothering, vol 1.
Here’s the first part:
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
We have been commanded to be fruitful. “The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force,” states the LDS Proclamation on the Family. Another way we are fruitful is through our good works. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down,” claims Alma 5:52. I know that many women are not able to be fruitful in terms of bearing children and my heart aches for them. They can still be fruitful and motherly by bringing forth the good fruit of good works, as Sheri Dew relates in her General Conference talk entitled, “Are We Not All Mothers?”1 In this talk, Sister Dew says that “Motherhood is more than bearing children . . . It is the essence of who we are as women.” She says that being motherly involves loving and leading Heavenly Father’s children safely back home to Him.
I want to interrupt for a moment with a warning. There’s a proper season for reading the rest of this chapter. Don’t read the rest of this if you are visiting the porcelain throne daily because of morning sickness or are feeling weary and bloated at nine months pregnant and vowing never to have any more children. Come back to this when you have a chubby six-month old baby who is as sweet as sugar.
“I Think I Was Made to Have Only ‘X’ Amount of Childrenཀ”
So, while I acknowledge that the “motherliness” of a woman is not determined by the amount of children she gives birth to, in this chapter I focus on being motherly and fruitful in terms of actual, physical fertility. Warning: this chapter my offend or bother you if you are a big fan of the birth control pill or other forms of artificial contraception. I may get flack for writing this chapter but I am willing to take it. It is very popular in our culture to talk in terms of, “Yeah, I think I was meant to have only two children (or whatever number we currently have).” As if God lined us up before earth life and sorted us into categories of, okay, she can only handle one child, the vast majority can handle two, and these few over here can handle ten.
We say we were made to only have three children especially when we are in the throes of mothering three little, dependent children. Especially when we have all of our children under the age of three or four years old, and we have to do everything for them, down to wiping their noses, getting them to potty and to bed, and buckling them into their car seats. Then it is very easy to feel daunted about the prospect of any more years of this plus diaper duty, and night nursing, multiplied by however many more children you are thinking of having. You think you will be in this phase forever. As one who has been there and done that with three children ages four and under, I can say, hang in there, it gets betterཀ You won’t be stuck in that phase of feeling like the mother-slave forever, doing everything for everybody all the time. As you have more children, and IF you train them to do housework, your workload will become lighter, and it will feel less overwhelming to have more children.
You will even reach the cushy position that I have reached now, where you hardly ever do laundry, wash dishes, or clean a bathroom, because your children do it. To quote Cherie Logan, of noblechild.com, “I have received my promotion!” In regular careers, if you work hard, you get a promotion. In the career of full-time motherhood, if you work hard by training your children to work (and that takes time and work, hence full-time motherhood), you deserve a promotion as well. This turning over of routine household duties to older children is a huge promotion. I even have the older children help the youngest ones with potty training. This is the motherhood lap of luxury! In my series of books, I focus on training children to work in the chapter on communicating with children in Volume II, which is forthcoming.
I remember reading the wise words of Joyce Kinmont, founder of the original LDS homeschooling organization, LDSHEA (LDS Home Education Association), and a pioneer of the LDS homeschooling movement. She wrote in her book, Diet Decisions, that we often say, “I was only meant to have X number of children.” Joyce suggested that instead of thinking that we can only handle X number of children, let’s instead raise our vision higher and increase the capacity we have to bear whatever X number of children Heavenly Father wants us to have. She further explained how we can increase our capacity, through proper nutrition, that is living the Word of Wisdom, the use of nutritional supplements if needed, and enough sleep and regular exercise. I would add to that list knowledge of how to train children to work and tend younger siblings, and how to teach children self-government. I realize now that what Joyce was promoting was how to fertilize a mother’s soil, which I expounded on in the previous chapter, so that she feels it is easier to bear children. Not easy, but easier. That’s a big secret in how to keep having babies and not go insane. Create the right physical, mental, social, and emotional environment for the mother so it is as easy as possible to bear as many children as God wants her to bear. This is the real environment that needs protecting and saving.
An Increase in Children is a Blessing, Believe It or Not, Because Children Call Us to Be Less Selfish
Why would we want to receive all the children God wants to send us? Because children are blessings, contrary to what our popular culture of death tells us. In the Book of Mormon, as my friend Joyce explained in Diet Decisions, there was a time when the Lord promised the Lamanites a tremendous blessing, in Helaman 7:24. The Lord wanted to show the Lamanites how pleased He was them because of their obedience. To show his approval, He lengthened their days and blessed them with an increase of seed.
Now how many of us think of “an increase in seed” as a blessing all of the time? We, for the most part, put restrictions on receiving this blessing, such as, only if I don’t have to be pregnant in the summer, or pregnant while moving, or pregnant if I am in school or my husband is in school, or, please don’t send me a baby until I have a bigger house with more bedrooms. I know there are legitimate reasons for delaying having children, such as chronic medical conditions and marital challenges, but I think we tend to legitimize excuses into reasons too often and don’t exercise more faith and work to put ourselves into a place to receive the blessing of more children.
Children are blessings because they each have missions to perform to bless the other children of Heavenly Father. President Gordon B. Hinckley, former prophet and president of the LDS Church, expressed this view in the First Presidency Message of the June Ensign of 2001. He said:
E. T. Sullivan once wrote these interesting words: “When God wants a great work done in the world or a great wrong righted, he goes about it in a very unusual way. He doesn’t stir up his earthquakes or send forth his thunderbolts. Instead, he has a helpless baby born, perhaps in a simple home of some obscure mother. And then God puts the idea into the mother’s heart, and she puts it into the baby’s mind. And then God waits. The greatest forces in the world are not the earthquakes and the thunderbolts. The greatest forces in the world are babies.”2
A great organization, One More Soul, has as its mission to foster God’s plan for love, sex, chastity, marriage, and children. Steve Koob, founder of the organization, has written an essay entitled, “The Blessings of Children.” I refer you to Appendix #1 to read this delightful essay. He basically says that children are blessings from God, not liabilities, which is how today’s world sees them. Raising a child can make someone a more compassionate, more humble, and less selfish person. The one thing that we share with God as imperfect mortal beings is fertility. Remarkably, fertility will still be part of our identity if we inherit all that God has for us, including godhood.3 It’s instructive that the only scripture quoted in the Proclamation to the World on the Family by the LDS Church is that from Psalms 127:3, “Children are an heritage of the Lord.” By receiving children (or at least being willing to) into our home, we start on the path of receiving the unspeakable, vast, eternal, glorious heritage God has for us.
In other words, to quote my dear girlfriend Joyce Mitchell, of Orem, Utah, “If having kids doesn’t cure you of selfishness, nothing will.” If there’s one thing this world needs more of, it’s less selfishness, so let’s have more babies. Another gem from the scriptures regarding having children is 3 John 1:4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” The greatest joy we can ever have is to have children and to see them grow up to be righteous. This next thing I will write won’t be PC, but I am going to toss it out anyway,. Could it be that the more children we have, the greater our joy? Could it be that the most joy our Heavenly Father has in store for us involves doing all we can to qualify for whatever number of children he wants us to birth and/or adopt? “Uh, no,” you may say, “I can’t just be popping babies out every nine months for all of my childbearing years. I would end up with 20 kids and go crazyཀ” I agree. I am not advocating that.
I know what you might be thinking, that you don’t want to agree to having as many children that God wants you to have, because it involves so much work. I know how that feels, because I have felt the same way. I remember after having my third child how exhausted I felt. I had three little children ages four and under and my husband traveled a lot for 2-3 days a week on business, including being gone overnight. I often felt alone, overworked, and underappreciated. During this time my two older children got chicken pox and we moved. I felt completely overwhelmed. I seriously wished that we could eat out for every meal and wear disposable clothes. I was so tired of doing dishes and laundry.
I remember seeing an acquaintance of mine across the parking lot at Target. She was blissfully pushing her cart out to her car, with two little children happily perched for the ride. She was obviously very pregnant with #3. I have to admit that I had the following unfriendly thought, “Just you wait. Sure you look happy now, but just wait until after that baby’s born! You have no clue what you are in for.” My youngest was about 18 months at the time and I had decided I was definitely in the not TTC (trying to conceive mode), whereas with my previous two children I had been TTC when they were even younger than that age. But after a nice break, and with some good old self-nurturing and God working on my heart, I was ready to have another child the following year.
The following scripture applies here, “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.”4 All things should be done in wisdom and order. Another name for this idea is The Law of the Seasons. It is a Biblical principle. According to Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” You can apply this idea to everything, including engaging in marital relations and having babies. A woman’s body has literal, physiological seasons. The time to plant, i.e. get pregnant, is her body’s springtime, her fertile time.
To Everything There is a Season
Spring comes after winter, right? Did you know that your body was designed to have a wintertime? This is when your body is infertile. Your body becomes infertile during lactational amenorrhea, LAM. LAM is when your uterus is at rest and you stop having periods because you are breastfeeding according to the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding. (I will go into detail about this in Volume III, The Seasons, of this series of books.) You can use LAM as “birth control” if you follow the rules (I don’t like that term because it implies that birth is negative and you have to control it; I prefer to use the term “fertility awareness”). For a detailed discussion of the rules, please see the chapter on LAM in Volume III. With LAM, you can use breastfeeding as a form of natural “birth control” or rather, natural infertility inducer. We live in a culture of death that promotes birth control as a pill to take, but really, which is more life-honoring and does less harm to our bodies and the environment, pills full of synthetic chemicals that cause side effects in our bodies, or using fertility awareness?
I know, I am sure you know plenty of moms who have gotten pregnant while breastfeeding. It’s probably a safe bet that they were out of the LAM time, or wintertime of their bodies, because they weren’t following the seven standards of ecological breastfeeding. When I lived in Provo, my neighbor had just had a baby. She told me she had heard of an NFP method that allowed you to know when you are fertile or infertile according to cervical fluid only (the Creighton method). She said she was going to host a series of classes at her home with a Creighton method instructor.and she invited me to come. Oh how unbelieving I was! I declined the invitation. (This was before I became converted to NFP. I had been interested in it in college but then chose other methods after I got married.) Before the first class even started this same neighbor became pregnant again and had babies less than one year apart. She ovulated even before she resumed her periods. This mom became pregnant not because the Creighton method doesn’t work, it’s because she lacked the knowledge of how the seven standards of ecological breastfeeding can cause infertility and therefore wasn’t practicing them.
I remember when I was a student at BYU, taking a course from Dr. Hal Black, now a retired professor of biology. One day in class somehow the hot topic of “Can a woman get pregnant while breastfeeding?” came up. I must have had a lot of Wymount Terrace residents in my class. (Wymount Terrace is the BYU married student apartments, affectionately known as “the rabbit hutches.”) Dr. Black said that a woman can get pregnant while she is breastfeeding, unless she breastfeeds in a certain way. He went on to say that most American women don’t breastfeed “this way,” but that many native, indigenous people do. He smiled most wryly, like he knew what the “the way” entailed, but he wasn’t going to tell us ignorant, commercialized, industrialized students.
Little did I know that I would stumble upon this “certain way” years later and even meet the woman who discovered and popularized the rules of the certain way. The certain way is the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding. Sheila Kippley discovered them in the early 1970s and wrote about them in her book, Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing, and in her new book, The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: the Frequency Factor.