Vocabulary for a Truer Feminism - Integrating the Whole Person Through NFP

Friday, July 29, 2016

Last day of NFP Week everyone! Thanks for sticking around/visiting for the first time!
Today, for our last NFP story this year, we're meeting Shelley and Ed.

1. Tell us a little about each of you.

Shelley grew up in Arizona in a family that is half-Lebanese and half-Southwestern desert rat. Much to her engineer-parents' chagrin, Shell has always been passionate about writing (and reading). Before earning an MFA in creative writing, she studied Comparative Theology at Boston College.

Ed came into this world in Lincoln, Nebraska, and has spent the past 31 years returning on and off again to his roots. After a childhood in Nebraska, New Mexico, and Colorado, Ed returned to Lincoln to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where get got very involved in the campus ministry organization FOCUS. Due to these experiences with FOCUS, Ed joined on as a FOCUS missionary for the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX.

While there, he met Paul, who had been a classmate and friend of Shelley’s while she attended Boston College. Paul and his fiancĂ©e, Amanda, invited Shelley and Ed to crash a New Year’s Eve party in Kansas. Though Ed and Shelley only overlapped for a few hours, Shelley often declares that she knew Ed was what she wanted right away, and she’s pursued Ed ever since (thank God for Facebook and cheap long-distance phone calls).

After four years of living a mostly long-distance romance, the two got married in 2012 and have lived in Nebraska and California, where they have focused on getting Ed through graduate school in applied economics. Shelley wins the bread as a writer and editor—and writes both fiction and non-fiction in her tiny amount of free time. They welcomed their son, Theo, to the team in 2015, and the three have been seeking equilibrium ever since.

2. How did you hear about NFP?


As a cradle Catholic who studied theology to better understand what the teachings of my faith meant for my life, I had a long-term understanding of the concept of NFP. Once my friends started practicing the variety of methods, I began looking into the science and theology of it as a hobby.


I think I first heard about NFP at the Catholic student center (Newman Center) at the University of Nebraska. I really didn't know much about it until a few of my Catholic friends started preparing for marriage. Around the same time, my mom began working at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska (home of the Creighton Method’s founder). Once Shell and I started preparing for marriage, I learned a lot at the NFP session.

3. How did you pick a method? 


When we were undergoing marriage prep, we were living in two different places (I was in Tucson, AZ; Ed was in Lincoln, NE). I only had access to Creighton Method teachers, which dictated the decision a bit (though I was also taking my temperature in the mornings to add data to my charts). Since Ed’s mom works for Pope Paul VI Institute, we had a lot of support with the Creighton Method, which also helped solidify the choice.


I did what Shelley wanted to do.

4. What has been your greatest challenge?


Postpartum NFP was very challenging because all of my body’s stability shifted with a baby. We have had less consistency in my charts, which had added stress to our sex-life since we are trying to avoid another pregnancy at the moment.


The greatest challenge, from my perspective, is finding a way to really live out being open to life. We both get frustrated when we'd like to make love but Shell's cycle is either unclear or uncooperative. We're not in a place where we feel we should pursue having another child immediately, but sometimes this means very few days in which we can make love—we have a young baby, after all, and still have the stresses of travel and school and work to address. In this frustration, I think I can forget the openness to life that I'm trying to live.

5. What has been your favorite benefit?


The biggest benefit has been the expansion of my identity as a woman and a feminist. The more I practice the method, the more empowered I feel. Up until I started practicing NFP, I felt as though my body was at odds with my mind and heart and soul—I didn’t want to be defined by my body/sex, especially when the symbol of the female body has so many disparate connotations associated with it. But the more I studied the topic of sexuality and identity and body, the more I got frustrated with liberal Western culture’s silence about the physical activities of women’s reproductive cycles and our concurrent disparagement of hemming in women’s sexuality. How could we both treat the body with so much silence and misunderstanding and then demand that others see women as whole persons worthy of dignity? Or, more personally, how could I ask my employers or my peers or my spouse to treat me as a whole, dignified person with inalienable rights if I shelved or forfeited some of the characteristics (re: ‘fertility’) that made me who I am? Similarly, how could I talk about my right to choose my future pursuits in a society that respects my choices if I simultaneously subordinated all thoughts of my future and my goals to any immediate sexual desires? Artificial birth control struck (and strikes) me as a lie that says we can cordon off a portion of the female identity (her physical reproductive capabilities) while still retaining an inalienable respect for her as a whole, dignified person with the right to choose her own future as a professional, mother, and sexual partner.

I find that the benefit of this family planning method is that it forces practitioners to know and be comfortable with their bodies. Before practicing NFP, I was certainly squeamish about my body’s natural processes—I was much more likely to make a dirty joke about sex rather than to talk about the natural physical and emotional pleasure it entailed. NFP both gave me a language to talk about my body and my sexuality and enabled me to be confident enough to push back against a culture that makes sexuality a possession rather than an outpouring of an integrated person. Suddenly, rather than talk about ‘birth control’ as an expression of feminist empowerment, I could talk about my body in a holistic and frank way, which became legitimately empowering.

In turn, I have had the opportunity to talk with others about their understandings of the female body. The men I talked with often acknowledged their anxiety about talking about my body’s processes and swallowed down their disquiet—which usually led to really healthy and splendid conversations. Frustratingly, the most resistance I continue to face comes from women—especially women who either react to explanations of the female body as ‘gross’ or perceive artificial contraceptives as the only means of bringing about true equality among the sexes. Certainly, there are many more advances that must take place before all women can enjoy the empowering benefits that are foundational to NFP. But what gives me hope that these advances are possible is that the NFPers (male and female) I have encountered are the one whom I have found to comfortably discuss sex, body, and identity in an enlightened way. Rather than shuffle around sex or turn the body into a textbook of vocabulary or symbolism, these individuals make the body and sex and personhood a coherent, integrated subject. Which is—in many ways—my hope for the future.


Shell wrote a lot of great stuff, so I’ll just say that I my favorite benefit from NFP has been the way it has enabled us to authentically embrace our bodies and to speak honestly about children, sex, and our faith.

Thanks for coming along this week! Don't miss the other installments in this series of NFP stories. We'll be back again next year!

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