NFP — It Ain’t Your Momma’s Rhythm

“Are they all yours?”

I get asked that question at least twice a week these days.  It doesn’t bother me very much since I realize that having seven children makes me a bit unique by societal norms. I can’t imagine why anyone would think I would willingly take other people’s children with me to Costco or the dentist (I wouldn’t) but it’s one of those questions that pop out of people’s mouths when they see me and my tribe out and about trying to accomplish those everyday errands that wear mothers out. The next few questions are the ones I usually find mildly annoying to downright offensive.

Do you know what causes that?

Why don’t you get that fixed?

Do you have a TV?

Are you Catholic? Irish? Uneducated?

Yes, I’ve been asked all of those questions usually in front of the children and many more questions and comments have been addressed to me that are not fit for publication here.   I try to be patient, I smile and suppress my natural sarcastic tendencies and answer as honestly and cheerfully as possible.

Yes, they are all mine.

Yes, I know what causes it and we prefer it to TV.

We can’t fix what isn’t broken.

I am both Catholic and Irish as well as being really well-educated, thank you very much. I have the paid-off loan documents to prove it.

Recently, on the soccer field of all places, some one came up with a different approach.

“So you’re one of those Catholics that don’t believe in birth control.” 

fluffybaby.jpgThis was one I could sink my teeth into.  Now I believe in birth control in so far as it exists. Unlike the Loch Ness monster or leprechauns which do not exist, so I do not believe in them. What I do believe about artificial birth control is that it is intrinsically evil, immoral and a mortal sin.  Why do I believe this?  Well, the easy answer is because the church tells me so. Now before you give me the whole story about the old men in the Vatican wanting to populate the earth in Catholics by keeping all of the women pregnant for twenty years at a time let me just say: lots of women work in the Vatican; no Catholic document says you should have as many children as humanly possible during your fertile years, and; not all the men in the Vatican are old. 

That’s the easy answer. If I were the type of person to accept easy answer I would not have had to pay back all those loans for school. I like to know the reason for things. Why is it a mortal sin? What makes it intrinsically wrong to use artificial means of birth control? 

The marital act has two purposes; it is both unitive and pro-creative. 

The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life (CCC 2363).

Unitive means that it brings husband and wife together in a close and special way. It is for their good and for the good of their marriage. A man and wife give themselves to each other completely and exclusively. It is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves to each other for as long as they both shall live.

The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches  the spouses in joy and gratitude (CCC 2362).

Procreative means that each act of marriage be open to life (CCC 2367).

The church does recognize that there are times when it is advisable to avoid pregnancy. The reasons for doing this can be highly personal and should be between the couple, their confessor and God. It is imperative to point out that the reasons should be ones that stem out of a generous and genuine desire to be a responsible parent and a desire to do God’s will.

Toward this end the church, and this diocese (Rockville Center) in particular, teach a method of spacing pregnancies called Natural Family Planning (NFP). NFP teaches a couple to recognize the signs of fertility in a woman so that each month they can prayerfully consider God’s will for their family. 

With this in mind it just makes sense that to put something between these two reasons for marital intimacy would thwart the sacramental aspect of the marriage and deny God’s will. Hence the mortal sin part of the problem. It is God’s great joy to have baptized people joined in the bonds of marriage and sanctified by the sacrament. It is His great joy to have us be blessed by the fruits of this sacrament: a close and loving relationship and children. Children are a gift, a blessing and means to our salvation.

Let’s get back to that soccer field conversation.

The woman with whom I was speaking asked if I did the Rhythm thing. I have no rhythm and I told her so. Rhythm is an outdated method of calculating ovulation by using a calendar and predicting fourteen days into a woman’s cycle she would conceive. Since not everyone has that kind of cycle it was not a very successful method. I explained that NFP was scientifically based and used by many people of all faiths since it was the healthiest method available.

The lady then pointed out that since I had seven children I was not such a great poster child for this method. 


It is exactly because I have seven children that I am a great poster child, even though I really don’t want to be on any posters. Had NFP not been part of our marriage I would likely have a much larger family by now. When there is no good reason not to conceive we simply don’t watch the fertility signs and let God plot the course. This is not always easy and we come in for a good bit of criticism for our beliefs but the fact is we have a good marriage. We have beautiful children and we have faith — faith that God will provide us what we need both materially and emotionally to care for these precious beings He has entrusted to our care.  It is because NFP works that I have great confidence that what God plans for our family will ultimately end with us united in heaven. It is because NFP works that I can joyfully tell you that our eighth baby will, with the help of God, join us here in January.

Deo Gratias.

For more information about learning Natural Family Planning please call the Rockville Center Diocesan Family Life office at 516-678-5800. Other information about life issues can be found at

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Claire

    This is a beautiful article. And God bless you for withholding your sarcasm; in your place I don’t think I would be able to. The TV comment really tops them all. I would have been tempted to ask that person whether he had had relations less than 7 times in his life. As someone who spent almost 4 years trying to conceive, I can tell you that how many children you conceive has no correlation to how many times you have relations. It’s how many times God chooses to bless you when you’re open to life.

  • A suggestion, for the next time somebody denigrates your acceptance of your children in such a manner:

    “Oh, if I didn’t want all these children, then I would be a very poor poster child for Natural family planning. But I’m so thankful to God for each and every one of them.”

  • gk

    God bless you Mary Ellen and each and every single one of your children.

    -God is good!

  • Grace Harman

    Humanae Vitae was not a new teaching, but just a repeat of traditional teachings, with a warning of what would happen if society were to accept birth control. The warnings have been proven true. The “pill” has dangerous side effects and is now polluting our water supply. It encourages infidelity, promiscuity, and teen sex. N.F.P. actually strengthens marriages -a good “side-effect”. Europe’s choice of abortion/contraception has given them the result of a greying and dying society that failed to produce enough children to maintain itself. Children are still a blessing from God.

  • trainwife1962

    I am the eldest of eight, seven of which were born in the 60’s. I remember all too well the slurs and canards heaped upon my mother when she was expecting number 8, asnd the pressure for her to abort, due to her age (46 when she was delivered of a healthy son). It takes a great deal of moral strength to have and raise a family of that size in this world, yet my parents have never complained about the sacrifices made by them to provide for us. They are retired now, and are enjoying thier richly deserved retirement, and hopefully spenidng my inheritance. BTW, I was raised in the Rockville Centre Diocese, and much of the abuse came from fellow parishioners and from our pastor.

  • matthens

    Heavenly Father, I thank you for Mary Ellen and her husband and the gift of their faith. Thank you too for the gift of CatholicExchange which provided an avenue for her to share their beautiful witness with a wider community along with the daily witness of their lives in Rockville Center. God of life, strengthen and bless the Barrett family and grant them a trouble free pregnancy and may their newest child be born healthy and whole. And Father, may you use them to further the conversion of the culture of death to the Gospel of Life. We ask this in the name of Jesus, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever.

  • yblegen

    I am the oldest of seven in a time when 14 children was not unusual. My very best friend is the 11th of 11. I wouldn’t know her if she were born today.

  • It all comes down to whether you view children as (a) a gift from God or (b) utilizers of resources. The contraceptive mentality views children as resource suckers, the Catholic mentality sees children AS resources. The way we’ve contracepted our population down (not to even count the murdered children of abortion), people of my generation (born in the 50’s and 60’s) are going to be in DEEP trouble when we try to retire – there won’t be enough people coming up after us to pay the taxes necessary to support either our nation or our retirees. Just one of the litany of things that go wrong when you try to thwart God’s plan – may He have mercy on us.

  • Piper

    Please know what a great witness your large family is. Your family may play a vital role in the conversion of many although you may not find out about it until one day in Heaven.

  • Paul

    Thank you God for large families and thank you Mary Ellen for your witness.

    CrisDee: I understand what you are trying to say but I don’t think I would use quite those words.
    Resources are things to be used, children are persons! The contraceptive mentality sees a person as something to be used.
    We are consumers of resources, persons made in Gods image to use the world but as good stewards.
    A big problem with the environmentalist movements, is that they have fostered an attitude which sees persons as the problem and try locking up resources to the detriment of people. I think they would like to see pristine environment which they and few like minded people could enjoy. Kind of the we’ve got ours now the rest of you stay out. This is why they continue to push birth control methods on the third world, its a quick fix to their perceived problem.

    Totalitarian regimes (China) see people primarily as objects to be used. I once asked an interpreter while I was traveling in China what they did with nuclear waste. His reply, “The problem is that there are too many people and not enough electricity.” Read between the lines, any impact on individuals is not a concern for the supposed benefit to the greater society. There is ample evidence of this throughout China, tens of thousands have been displaced for hydroelectric projects and other infrastructure construction.

    All these philosophies seek to subjugate the person and deny their God given dignity.


  • Warren Jewell

    So, all you folks are over here –

    I might coyly answer “these are the only ones I could fit into the van”.

    Grace – Humanae Vitae amounted to ‘new’ to all too many of the extant generations, including most Catholics. And, in its prophetic and pastoral power, it is still a vital ‘renewal’.

    I can imagine that if we reject God’s greatest gifts – our beloved children from procreation – why should He not just quit giving other gifts to us? Can we see that happening in our decaying culture?

    And, we all are likely to get some hard stares at our judgments before our God-King. All the gifts that we have been blessed with, and we stopped so many gift-children from sharing in our blessings. Shame on us!

  • choyc9

    Congratulations Mary! I thank God for setting you aside from the rest of the world so that you can give witness of His glory and love. I have three young children and the lines that I got these days from strangers were:

    “Having 3 is not usual these days, thank you for being pro-creative as your children will pay for my social welfare.”

    “Good job mom. I wish I had more kids when I was young like you. I only have one and I regretted, as my son/daughter asked me why he/she didn’t have a sibling.”

    Let’s continue to be part of the culture of life!

  • maryhelen

    Thank you for your beautiful witness, Mary Ellen!

    My mother practiced NFP, so eleven of us were born two to two and a half years apart. I am number Eight. My parents had very limited resources; had come from another country without marketable skills as they were landowners of good means back home. They did not even know the language of this country, yet they trusted God to provide for all of us. On the basis of much work and sacrifice, they sent the nine of us who survived childhood to Catholic schools and paid taxes for public education. All of us had the opportunity to go to college; I even attended a Catholic university away from home; all five girls have more than one M.A Degree, and one has a Ph.D. How’s that for the Lord, our God, providing for us? Besides the hardships, there was a lot of joy and fun times in the family!

    Nowadays, I see a lady whose husband was deployed to Iraq, but she, alone, continues to take the six children, including the baby, to Mass on Sundays. All look as though they’ve stepped out of a magazine: clean, combed, well-dressed. Instead of toys or goodies to keep the children occupied, they each have a child’s missal, and they participate to their ability in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Even the baby is quiet throughout Mass!

    In my opinion, that is another illustration of loving as God loved us.

  • scrappydoo2k2

    Couple problems with the logic of this article, First, the author
    relies on “God’s will” several times to support her argument, but not
    once does she cite text from the Bible, only from the Catholic
    Catechism. This alienates non-Catholic readers, at least. Second, she
    says that artificial birth control is evil and immoral (“because the
    church tells me so,” see First reason). Human flight is also
    artificial, so is modern medicine. Many religions have indeed held
    that medicine is evil and immoral, and many people have died because
    they held those beliefs (not supported in the Bible).

    How can this logic, or the lack thereof, continue to prosper and find
    acceptance by Catholics? Maybe support for argument is not required
    when she assumes her readership is strictly catholic and will
    therefore agree with her anyway. But then why make argument in the
    first place? Who is the author trying to pursuade, or is she just
    seeking acceptance from her peers?

    If God says contraception is evil, immoral and mortal sin, then why
    doesn’t she use God’s words for support, not man’s. Isn’t God a better
    source than the CCC?

  • guitarmom

    scrappydoo2k2 —

    Genesis 1:27-28 — So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. …”

    So God’s first commandment to man was to “be fruitful an increase in number.” And he never rescinded that command.

    You may wish to argue with Mrs. Barrett’s quotes, but please don’t argue with God’s word.

  • Joe DeVet

    When we gave birth to our 8th child, one of my colleagues at work gave me a card that nailed it perfectly. Outside it said, “Your Wealth is in Your Children…” and inside: “Congratulations on Making a Bundle!”

    We got the same questions, incredible questions and comments from perfect strangers. Why do you have so many children??? I finally found the answer that was both true and a stopper of silly questions: “Because we did not want to limit our joy!” NFP worked very well to prevent pregnancy when that was our intent, but we did want a large family in in that we were very blessed.

    As for where in the Bible does it say so? How about “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The true and beautiful teaching against birth control is a sign that the Rock continues to stand firm.

  • Claire

    Scrappydoo, apparently you’ve never read the Catechism, because each teaching within cites Biblical references, some implicit and some explicit.

  • mamreilly


    I applaud your readership to this website. To me, it demonstrates that you are in search of the Truth, regardless of what you may find. We believe that the fullness of the Truth is found in the Catholic church and we are unafraid to proclaim it however unpopular it may be to those who receive it.

    We don’t assume that any Catholic knows everything about their faith. Constant and continual catechesis is needed accompanied by prayer and contemplation on God’s Word and the teachings of His Church. That is the purpose of this article.

  • rsmgc5

    Years ago (prior to my conversion) I would have agreed with you completely. You seem to be especially offended by the fact that we Catholics rely so heavily on the teachings of the Church.
    I pray that it helps you to understand that Saint Peter was the original Pope. Every Pope that has come after Peter is his decendant, and teaches us as Peter taught the earliest Christians. Do we rely on the teachings and traditions of Peter? Yes. Why? Peter was taught by Jesus himself and given the blessing to build the Church.
    The best answer I have for the question “Isn’t God a better
    source than the CCC?” is: Yes, God is the best source. Unfortunatley, only when I am in heaven will I fully experience an understanding of God. Fortunatly, God, in his great wisdom left the Church (the same Church that gave us the Bible) and the Holy Spirit to guide us until then.

    May God Bless you.

  • dennisofraleigh

    Perhaps you’ve heard of a woman by the name of Kimberley Hahn. She was raised in a very devout Reformed Protestant family. Her father was an ordained minister. She eventually converted to Catholicism. What led her to do that, you may ask? When she was attending Gordon-Conwell seminary (Protestant) in Boston back in the 1970’s working towards her Master’s degree in Theology she picked as a topic for her thesis one she thought would be easy to refute—the Catholic prohibition on use of artificial contraceptives. She reasoned (as you did) “if the Catholics can’t defend it from scripture then the teaching falls apart.”
    Well, guess what? At the end of her extensive research she found to her chagrin that her fellow Protestants hadn’t held to their original teachings on the subject. She discovered that, up until the early part of the 20th century not a single, not a SINGLE, Protestant denomination (and that was across the spectrum from Anglican to Assemblies of God) endorsed the use of artificial contraception by Christian married couples. Martin Luther and John Calvin both denounced the practice.
    You can read Kimberly Hahn’s story (alongside that of her husband Scott who also converted) in their book “Rome Sweet Home” published by Ignatius Press. You’ll be glad you did.
    May the Holy Spirit guide you in all you do.

  • MichelleGA

    rsmgc5 — I like your last 3 sentences! It succinctly states what I try to say to someone I know who likes to dig at me every now and then. I will use your lines next time around.

    We have 10 children and we homeschool, so we are just plain weird! All sorts of comments/questions come our way all the time. I’m really good with answers now, although years ago I was too shy, shocked, and embarrassed to reply to people. My husband said that we must live as witnesses for God and answer people with love rather than say nothing and get angry silently. He was so wise as it really does work to answer questions and defuse the negative attitudes people have. Oh, the saddest stories women tell me of regret that they contracepted or sterilized themselves or their husbands. The longing they have for their children that they refused is pitiful…it is really heartbreaking.

  • Wow, this article was very similar to one I read a few days ago!

    Re: NFP While the Church approves the Method She doesn’t necessarily approve the Motives. Too often NFP is promoted as if it was the 8th Sacrament or the 11th Commandment.

  • siobhan32

    I, too, am the eldest of eight. 4 were born in the 50’s, 3 in the 60’s and 1 in the 70’s. How many times people asked Mommy ‘are they all yours?’. Because I know what they go through, when I see a large family, I ask the same question and then respond with a huge smile and say ‘AWESOME! God is so good!’. My small contribution to offset the many unintentional (and intentional) poison darts hurled by secular envy.

    2539 Envy is a capital sin. It refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s goods. CCC

  • scrappydoo2k2

    Guitarmom, you advise me not to argue with God’s word. Very wise. However, I never did argue with God’s word, clearly not in my first response above.
    I argued with the article’s author not citing the Bible, but rather the CCC, as a source for her beliefs that contraception is evil and immoral.

    Man was commissioned by God “to be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28)as you stated. However, the Bible in this passage or elsewhere does not address birth control or whether it is right for Christians to use birth control.

  • scrappydoo2k2


    You state that “apparently [I’ve] never read the Catechism, because each teaching within cites Biblical references, some implicit and some explicit.”

    I attended Catholic school and Catechism for several years, and received my confirmation into the Catholic curch. I have indeed read much of the Catechism or have had it taught to me. I would be very interested in the portions of the Catechism you refer to that claim support in the Bible that contraception is evil or immoral in the eyes of God.

  • scrappydoo2k2


    Thanks for not taking an adversarial view of my response to the article. I am indeed in search of the truth as many Catholics are. However, in my search I still have yet to find support in the Bible that contraception is “evil and immoral.” No doubt God views children as a gift. He says so several times, and the Bible supports that assertion. He also requests us to be fruitful and multiply. But NOWHERE does he say that contraception is wrong.

    In particular, I took exception to the author’s careless use of God’s motive without proper citation, as if putting words in his mouth. Let’s be careful not to do that.

    “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish [ought] from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”(Deuteronomy 4:2)

    “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-9)

  • scrappydoo2k2


    Be careful not to honor traditions of men more than the word of God. God is the authority, not man, not the Church. Don’t be misled. Start with God.

    Regarding the article – God says nothing against contraception in the Bible. To say that God has held contraception to be evil or immoral, or that he supports such beliefs, is irresponsible.

  • scrappydoo2k2


    It seems as though my point is falling on deaf ears. Catholic, Protestant, etc. may support or condemn contraception. They may even change their minds, as you have duly noted. The point is that GOD DOES NOT condemn, nor support, contraception. Contraception, therefore, is a subject to be left to lower social argument. To say God supports your way of thinking WITHOUT PROPER SUPPORT is irresponsible. Let’s not confuse our own ideas of rightiousness with God’s.

  • mkochan


    We are commanded to love God and neighbor. There are many things that violate love of neighbor that are not explicit in Scripture. Show me the scripture that says it is wrong for me to dump my garbage in my neighbor’s yard. Show me the scripture that says it is wrong for me to blast rap music out of my windows at high decibel levels in the wee hours of the morning.

    God gave us intelligence to discern the wrongness of those acts as contrary to the duties of love. In the same manner, God gave us marriage and the sexual union, God revealed in the very nature of the sexual act and transmission of life His purpose for marriage (natural revelation), and then through the history of Divine revelation, God gave us further understanding, explicitly denoting man as made in His image, explicitly calling children and the opening of the womb His own gifts (OT); then God further revealed the exalted status of human beings as invited to share the life of the Holy Trinity in eternity (NT). God formed the Church to minister the very guidance of the Holy Spirit to us lead into all truth. The very same Church fathers who selected the canon of scripture to which you wish us to refer, were united in condemnation of contraception as an evil from the earliest days of the Church. If you don’t regard that as a God’s authority, then you have no scriptures to fall back on because if they were wrong on that, they just as well could have been wrong about which books belong in the Bible.

    All of the above is put into the shorthand statement that contraception is a violation of God’s law, intrinsically evil and gravely immoral.

    If God speaks to you at all through the Scriptures given you by the authority of the Church, then it is the same God speaking to you through the same authority to tell you that He condemns contraception.

    Mary Kochan, Senior Editor, Catholic Exchange

  • gk


    Please relax and continue your search for the truth. Though the following doesn’t use the word contraception it uses the word “sorcery.” You will find with a little effort that “sorcery”, midwivery and witchery were used interchangably in antiquity. Sorcery in this sense included potions/herbal mixtures for contraceptives and abortificients. For this I reference “Eve’s Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West” by John M. Riddle. This book can be found at Also refrence: “when Abortion Was a Crime by Leslie J. Reagan at “”

    Gal 5:16-21 – “I say, then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want. But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness,
    idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

    Good luck on your quest for the truth and God bless,

    A fellow searcher – in Christ,

    -God is good.

  • Claire

    I’m glad you came back to view and respond to the comments. Every teaching in the Catechism cites a Biblical reference. Some are implicit (i.e. implied) and some are explicit. I don’t have a catechism in front of me, but I know that the scriptural references related to church teaching on contraception are implicit. Meaning that the Magesterium, with the authority of the Church given to St. Peter, has interpreted these scriptures to apply to use of contraception.