One Catholic blogger says she doesn’t use NFP because, for her, it’s just easier to go ahead and have babies. (This was years ago, but I only saw it recently.)
Most of the response was cheers, congratulations, and admiration. Only a single reader pointed out that it’s easy to feel that way when you’re rich, you have a huge house, your husband supports you easily on his secure, lucrative job, and you have daily hired help (none of which she had mentioned in her essay).
The blogger responded, “I would happily give up absolutely any comfort or convenience to have my children. I’d eat beans and rice in a trailer with them in a heartbeat.”
More hosannas. And that’s where I stopped reading neutrally and started breathing heavily. Ain’t no privilege like the privilege of ignorance.
First, nobody’s talking about trading in any of your kids in exchange for a cushy lifestyle. That’s not how it works. When you decide to use NFP to avoid pregnancy, you’re not saying, “I have kids, but they’re not so great; so now I choose to devote my life to a pursuit of filet mignon.”
Second: oh my dear. Poverty isn’t beans and rice and and a sweet little hut.
Poverty is dirty needles in your kid’s play space. It’s lead poisoning and cockroach-induced asthma. It’s windows you never open, even though it’s sweltering hot and you can’t afford AC, because your drunk neighbors are screaming obscenities at each other and you don’t want that to be your children’s lullaby at night. Poverty means you never have silence, ever, because someone’s always blasting their bass so hard your walls shake, shrieking, endlessly revving their engines, or beating the crap out of each other.
Poverty means you’d like to bake your own bread, but the oven doesn’t work, the landlord doesn’t care, and the corner bodega doesn’t sell yeast anyway; so you end up getting the dollar loaf of white bread, because you do have a dollar. Poverty means you’d like to sew your own clothes, but you can’t afford a sewing machine, and you don’t have an extra six hours to throw together a simple sundress for the baby because you’re working at Taco Bell; so your kids wear pilled t-shirts from the free pile. Poverty means you’d like to grow your own fresh herbs and vegetables, but the tiny patch of green in front of your apartment is full of broken glass and used condoms, and the meth head who lives upstairs let his rottweiler poop there anyway.
Poverty means everything takes longer, works out worse, has less margin for error, and doesn’t ever give you a break. Poverty means that you build your day around trying to assemble paperwork for some government office to prove that you really are poor, only to find that they arbitrarily changed the guidelines, and you’ve now already missed the deadline and are back on the bottom of the list, and the person who denied your claim doesn’t work there anymore and you have no recourse, because you’re just another poor person, and there forty more on hold ahead of you.
Poverty is endlessly telling your children “no,” you can’t have extras, you can’t have treats, you can’t have lessons, you can’t have trips, you can’t have musical instruments, you can’t have art supplies, you can’t have pets, you can’t have a ride on the merry-go-round. Very soon, kids stop even asking.
Everything you own is rickety; everything you own is ugly. Nothing you own is what you would have chosen.
Poverty is hard on marriage, hard on your kids, and hard on your mental health. Poverty is not sweet. Not simple. Not beautiful. Just ugly and grinding and unjust. Not beans and rice. Bedlam and ashes and mold.
We deserve no credit for saying we’re willing to live a life we don’t even halfway understand. It’s not wrong to be rich or secure; but it is wildly offensive to assume that poverty is just like wealth, minus some perks, as if you could continue to live inside the walls of your privilege, but just shop at Pottery Barn less. That poverty is something you can take in stride if you just love your kids enough.
No, poverty (especially generational poverty) invades every corner of your life, physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual, and it invades every corner of your children’s lives. If you think it would be different with you, I only pray you never find out how wrong you are.
I’ll stop now, because I know poverty is my particular bugbear. But I’ll tell you something else about NFP and privilege.
It is always a privilege to be able to say “no thanks” to NFP. Yes, even if you’ve made some sacrifices in making that choice.
It is a privilege that comes from having wealth, having security, having a supportive, cooperative, patient husband — or from having enough stability and peace of mind that the sacrifices you make don’t wreck your life.
It is a privilege that comes from having enough physical and emotional and mental wherewithal to care for your other children sufficiently while you are pregnant.
It is a privilege that comes from having a healthy body that produces healthy babies. Some people can’t say “no thanks” to NFP because they desperately want a huge family, but then the babies they conceive so easily keep dying, no matter how much progesterone their NaPro doc crams up in there.
And I could go on. There are more kinds of poverty than financial poverty. Some couples endure poverties you, with your privilege, cannot imagine, and that’s why they use NFP to avoid pregnancy. Not because they refuse to make sacrifices, but because they simply cannot have what you take for granted.
When we talk about NFP, it’s important only to talk about our own choices, and to avoid making judgments about other people. But if we allows ourselves to be seen as a role model, even keeping it personal isn’t really good enough. We must include the context of our choices. We must acknowledge the privilege that makes those choices possible. If we choose to use our lives as an illustration, we can’t crop out the details.
Hear me, public Catholics: If you’re in a position to say “no thanks” to NFP, then get on your knees and thank God for your dozens of life-changing privileges. They, and not your virtue, your generosity, or your free spirit, are what makes it possible to say “no thanks” so blithely. Yes, even if you’ve made sacrifices to say “no thanks.”
Acknowledge those privileges, be grateful for them, and confirm that not everyone is as lucky as you. Believe me, it’s important. So many women accuse themselves so harshly for things that are beyond their control. If you don’t acknowledge your privilege, you are telling a dangerous lie.